Discover his inspiration for the children’s story about a cheeky little fellow with big dreams of being in the spotlight.
Almost 15 years after its Tony Award-winning run on Broadway, The Light in the Piazza has crossed the pond. Premiering in London at the Southbank Centre, the charming musical is based on a story by American author Elizabeth Spencer that was published in 1960 and then made into a movie starring Olivia de Havilland and George Hamilton in 1962.
Directed by multiple Olivier Award winner Daniel Evans, this new incarnation of The Light in the Piazza boasts a cross-genre cast from the worlds of theatre, opera and television. It also features a score performed by Opera North’s 40-piece onstage orchestra as well as an absolutely breathtaking set that will sweep you away to the sun-filled, romance-drenched Italian cities of Florence and Rome.
What is The Light in the Piazza about?
Set in 1953, The Light in the Piazza tells the story of an American mother, Margaret Johnson, who brings her beautiful 26-year-old daughter, Clara, on a visit to Florence. Many years ago, Margaret spent an idyllic honeymoon there with her husband Roy, though they’ve since grown apart.
In a seemingly enchanted piazza, a gust of wind lands her “special child” in front of a handsome 20-year-old local, Fabrizio Naccarelli. Although it’s love at first sight, complications ensue and the young couple soon find themselves entangled in a Romeo and Juliet style situation.
The Naccarelli family – comprised of the dashing Signor and put-upon Signora, plus philandering elder son Giuseppe and his resentful wife Franca – are against a wedding, as are Clara’s controlling parents. But can the powers of “amore” win everyone over?
Take a look at the trailer below:
Who stars in The Light in the Piazza?
The cast is headed by America’s leading opera performer and four-time Grammy Award winner Renée Fleming as Margaret Johnson, along with Disney film and TV star Dove Cameron as Clara Johnson. Both are making their London musical theatre debuts. Fleming’s repertoire includes arias performed in Czech, German, French and Russian, as well as Italian and English. Cameron has stated that she had dreamed of singing Clara’s role since she was eight years old.
Joining them is 2019’s Off West End award-winner Rob Houchen as Clara’s Italian suitor Fabrizio Naccarelli and three-time Olivier Award winner Alex Jennings as Signor Naccarelli, his self-assured father.
Giuseppe Naccarelli and Signora Naccarelli are played by Liam Tamne and Marie McLaughlin. Celinde Schoenmaker, who previously starred in The Phantom of the Opera, has the role of Franca Naccarelli, while acclaimed actor Malcolm Sinclair appears as Margaret’s husband and Clara’s father Roy Johnson.
What can audiences expect from The Light in the Piazza?
With a focus on sunny piazzas and holidays in far-flung Italian cities, The Light in the Piazza is the perfect show for summer – and the staging is so cleverly done that it will feel like you’ve been transported abroad.
When the musical opens the set looks minimal, but within seconds an Italian street scene comes to life. A caffè table appears, and then a newspaper agent, and a flower seller. Soon a scooter whizzes by. Before you know it, you’re immersed in the hustle and bustle of Florence’s Piazza della Signoria.
Like an airy piazza, The Light in the Piazza has a playful, breezy aura that shines with romance. On the surface you’ve got a seemingly predictable storyline: girl falls for boy, mother disapproves but is later won over as an advocate.
However, the plot is more complex. The Light in the Piazza offers a deeper exploration of love and marriage as well as romantic and familial relationships from a variety of perspectives.
Set against Clara and Fabrizio’s blossoming courtship are faded loves, broken marriages and wandering eyes. The challenges of relationships for the disabled even come into focus.
Weaving all of this together are beautifully poetic songs that range in style from classic Broadway and opera to pop. Plus, there’s lots of (or rather, “molto”) Italian spoken in the show. But don’t worry, if all you understand is “ciao” you’ll be just fine because the actors’ body language and enunciation clearly convey everything.
Along with her magnificent voice, Renée Fleming exudes great stage presence as Margaret. She’s a natural for musical theatre and carries the role superbly, especially delivering on numbers like Dividing Day and Let’s Walk.
Dove Cameron is simply radiant and does an excellent job conveying Clara’s complex personality – from her childlike whimsy and delicacy to her growing strength and maturity.
The male leads, Alex Jennings and Rob Houchen, are also impressive, filling their roles with high-spirited energy, while Liam Tamne as the caddish yet lovable Giuseppe offers many screwball moments.
And often it’s the entire Naccarelli family together – in numbers like Aiutame, where Marie McLaughlin as Signora actually addresses the audience in English to explain what “she suspects” – that steal the show.
What are the critics saying?
“This is a real summer treat” ★★★★★ – London Theatre
“Melodically haunting and sophisticated” ★★★★ – The Independent
“Star quality” – The Guardian
“Sophisticated in its orchestral craft” – Daily Telegraph
“Fleming and Cameron make striking London debuts” – The Evening Standard
“The musical soars, achieving unusual resonance and richness” – WhatsOnStage
What else do I need to know?
The Light in the Piazza runs in the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre until Friday 5 July 2019. The performance lasts two hours and 15 minutes, including a 20-minute interval.
Tickets are available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.