Theater preview: ‘Deeply beautiful’ music adds to romanticism of 'Light in the Piazza'

Published: Saturday, Nov. 9 2013 3:50 p.m. MST

Rebecca Peterson stars as Clara Johnson and Kimberly Bunker as Margaret Johnson in the BYU production of The Light in the Piazza.

Jaren Wilkey/BYU

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A sudden gust of wind carries away the hat from atop the head of an American visitor to an Italian piazza, and the chance encounter with a young Florentine man who retrieves Clara Johnson’s hat begins a life-changing adventure for the young woman and her mother, Margaret.

A highly romantic story with intriguing revelations at its core, the Tony Award-winning “The Light in the Piazza” will be staged by BYU’s Theatre and Media Arts Department.

“‘The Light in the Piazza’ is about relationships and how those relationships grow and develop, especially as they experience trials and hardships,” says dramaturg Kristen Leinbach. “Margaret and Clara’s journey shows the beauty of the love between a mother and a daughter. Throughout the story, Margaret has to make many difficult decisions — the most difficult being allowing Clara to make decisions. It is a story about learning how to love and also how to let go.”

“Audiences can’t help but fall in love with this piece because of its unabashed romanticism,” adds Carson Wright, who assists the musical’s director. “The piece explores love in all of its intricate and complicated ways, and it does it so honestly and without apology.”

What begins as a romantic story of young love gradually moves into a more tragic tale involving a past accident with serious consequences, family secrets and conflict between maternal love and responsibility.

In its review of the 2005 Broadway production, the New York magazine critic wrote, “Anyone who cares about the rather uncertain future of this truly American genre (of musical theater) should — must — see this show.”

Composer Adam Guettel won a Tony Award for Best Original Score, which music director Mark Johnson calls “emotionally driven and intellectually satisfying, but more than anything deeply beautiful. The intricate rhythms are very harmonically sophisticated compared to what else is out there in musical theater. Personally, Guettel is my favorite contemporary composer.”

Largely considered the premier theater composer in the post-Stephen Sondheim era, Guettel is the grandson of legendary Broadway musician Richard Rodgers, and Sondheim has called the young composer’s work “dazzling.”

“Writing for character and telling stories through music (is) something I really love to do, and that allows me to express love,” Guettel has said.

“Adam Guettel’s score really captures so well the feelings of the play, it’s hard not to let music take you away,” says Wright.

Guettel and script writer Craig Lucas based “The Light in the Piazza” on the 1960 Elizabeth Spencer novella-turned-MGM-film that starred Olivia de Havilland, Rossano Brazzi (of "South Pacific" fame), Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton.

While directing "The Light in the Piazza," Scott Eckern is able to refrence an unexpected trip to Florence, Italy, a "special place where my passion for theater blossomed.”

In her research for the production, Leinbach discovered a Spencer quote: “It is practicality versus love that comes into conflict. (Margaret’s) heart goes to battle with her mind. … Readers and audience members will certainly have their own opinions as to the rightness or wrongness of her decision. This mystery is the center of any real story’s appeal and offers, to my mind, the only approach to what life is about. It cannot be predicted or reasoned through from any remote vantage point. It can only be lived, experienced, felt. My story invites you to go along with her and see.”

While rehearsing the musical, cast members “have learned about the complications of love, about how to enjoy trials even though life may be difficult and about how you have the opportunity to give your life to others and then have to learn how to let these individuals go in order to love them even more,” Leinbach believes. “The story has touched each member of the production team as we have each experienced our own journey in bringing ‘The Light in the Piazza’ to life.”

“Everyone involved in this production has made his own discoveries as we have progressed through the work,” adds Wright. “What excites me about putting this up on stage is the potential the show has to lead our audiences to their own discoveries.”

If you go

What: BYU Theatre and Media Arts Department presents “The Light in the Piazza”

Where: Harris Fine Arts Center Pardoe Theatre

When: Friday, Nov. 15, through Saturday, Dec. 7, at 7:30 p.m. with 2 p.m. Saturday matinees

How much: $16-$22

Tickets: 801-422-2981 or byuarts.com/tickets

Theater preview: Deeply beautiful music adds to romanticism of 'Light in the Piazza'

BYU Theatre presents "The Light in the Piazza"

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