ALTARENA PLAYHOUSE CONTINUES THEIR 76TH SEASON WITH THE DELIGHTFUL LOVE STORY
SET IN A PLAZA, IT IS TERRIFIC.
The Piazza is open on High Street now at Altarena Playhouse in Alameda Ca. through June 12th. The deeply felt musical THE LIGHT ON THE PIAZZA, shines like a beacon and is Altarena’s most impressive musical of their 78th season. Directed by Stewart Lyle he says, “Eight years ago, when asked what show I wanted to direct for Altarena, The Light in the Piazza was my answer, and I’m so excited and grateful to finally be doing it with such a fantastic team of theatrical artists. The show goes far beyond being a soaring romance with a rich score of beautiful music.” Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas’s 2005 Tony Award winning musical, based on the 1960 Elizabeth Spencer novella turned film, is a tender tale that discovers love through music of innocence and young love. And Guettel crafts his songs in a style that combines the rich, romantic classic Italian opera with traditional lyrics that complement Stephen Sondheim. Most impressive is part of the book and music is in Italian, that is surprisingly easy to follow.
Lyle has assembled a stunning cast to open this wonderful Piazza, and he also designed the set, a gorgeous intimate plaza that the audience surrounds, and makes this romantic musical very engaging. Guettle grandfather is Richard Rodgers, and his sons work reaches that same excellence. Margaret Johnson played by the appealing Donna Turner and her 26 year old daughter Clara played beautifully by Madison Genovese, have traveled from Winston Salem, N.C., to take a culture bath in the ancient city of Leonardo and Michelangelo. But when a young handsome Florentine named Fabrizio Naccarelli played by local favorite Kyle Stoner, rescues Clara’s sunhat from a breeze in the wind, their eyes meet and it’s instant Romeo and Juliet. Their song “Say it Somehow” Stoner and Genovese bring a wonderful charm to their story and issues they face later in the story.
Fabrizio and Clara easily fall in love, but the boy only knows a few words of english. Stoner’s perfect authentic Italian accent, and singing voice is well trained for this role, he captures the perfect emotion for his solo “Passeggiata”. The boy's family supports the new friendship and the supporting cast is delightful, the strong Avi Jacobson plays Fabrizio’s father, and his Mother Signora played by the charming Maggie Tenenbaum who brings that right passion to “Aiutami” as the family readys for the wedding. Both Clara, or her mother, Margaret, do not speak any Italian. So at times Signora Naccarelli breaks the fourth wall and tells us what everyone just said. That is what makes this Tony winner so alluring. The Naccarelli family are warmly welcoming from the moment they learn that their youngest son fondness for the American. Including his older brother Giuseppe played by the frisky talented Michael Cabanlit, and his envious wife Fanca well played by Laura Domingo.
The family plans the marriage in the Tuscan hills. Turner wonderfully sings “Dividing Day” knowing she fears for her daughter's. Clara may seem to be just a sweet, bubbly girl, but in fact she’s mentally unstable the victim of a brain injury she had while riding a horse on her 12th birthday. The injury has gone undetected by the Naccarellis because of the language barrier, but Margaret knows that Clara’s possible emotional development will give her away. Clara’s dad Roy who remains on the mainland is not much help. Tom Curtin is well cast as Roy Johnson who remains busy in North Carolina, Margaret who remembers they both celebrated their honeymoon in Italy, faces the risky task of disappointing the Italian family and breaking her daughter’s heart. A true love novella that all works out in the end.
Guettel’s gleaming score is played by a five piece piano and strings band, led by musical director Francesca Brava. Their music fills the intimate Altarena space as designer Lyle has the orchestra on stage with the keen cast. This could appear to look cluttered with this large cast, but the fit is perfect and you still get a wide open feeling while you sit in this plaza. Artistic Director Clay David who was also scenic artist, washed the set in a buttery yellow tan hue that captures old marble and warm Italian sunshine. Rick Wallace's choreography is melodic and smooth, and Sharon Bell’s costumes of summer hats, dresses and earth tone breezy look for the Italian men. The wedding scene is elegant, and the nuns and supporting cast that kept the stage busy all look excellent. Bob and Peggy Stratton fill out the ensemble in various roles including the Priest, maid and others. The sound design by Fred di Natale complements the live orchestra in such a small space, and Courtney Johnson’s warm Italian summer light design keeps the mood of this production graceful.
It is the young lovers who captivate us from the opening number “Statues and Stories”. We don’t always know what Fabrizio is saying or singing, but Stoners emotion and intention shines through. Genovese pitch perfect “The Light in the Piazza” solo she performs in the closing act is a true highlight. “The land of naked marble boys,” she sings with glee and her childlike enthusiasm is mixed with the excitement of any young person in love. This is the most ambitious production I have seen at this black box stage and the Altarena team surely has created a stunning evening of musical theatre. Kyle Stoner and Madison Genovese clearly are the light in this plaza. It is a sure sell out for the Altarena Playhouse, grab the few remaining seats and see this musical.
Altarena Playhouse presents
The Light in the Piazza
A musical by Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel.
Directed by Stewart Lyle
Music Director Francesca Brava
Alameda Altarena Theatre,
1409 High St. Alameda Ca.
Through June 12, Fridays and Saturdays at
8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.
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Photo’s by Jim Norrena