Cold, wet snow was falling from dark skies over the Eastman Theatre on Friday evening, but the welcoming light inside offered a heartwarming, gorgeously well-performed, and often hilarious production of 2005’s brilliant “The Light in the Piazza.”
The play is an uncommonly optimistic take on what the show’s stage director, Stephen Carr (associate artistic director of Eastman Opera Theatre), called “love in all its stages and seasons” in the notes included in the program.
I’d never been to a production at the Eastman Theatre, and my high hopes were certainly met and often exceeded by the play. Lovely set design and charming costumes did a lot to bring the musical’s setting in 1950s Italy to life, and I found myself engrossed and invested from the outset. Especially notable was the altogether excellent lighting, which sold everything from the clutching claustrophobia of the beginning of “Hysteria/Lullaby” to the plaintive loneliness of “Dividing Day,” to the show’s emotional, fairy-tale ending in “Fable.” The orchestra, conducted by Eastman Opera Theatre music director Benton Hess, performed Adam Guettel’s Tony-winning score with all the talent and liveliness the Eastman name promises. Hess set the play’s striking visuals in an atmosphere of melancholy and emotion that wove everything together.
“The Light in the Piazza” is fundamentally about love and being human, and no matter how perfect its set pieces, lighting, music, and direction, it would have felt incomplete without the very real relationships between its characters that make up the primary motivating factors of its plot.
Luckily, the actors captured those relationships beautifully. The chemistry between junior Julia Fedor (Clara) and senior Jordan Costa (Fabrizio), the pair of unlikely lovers around whose connection the entire show turns, was palpable. Awkward at first, tender and devoted later on, Fedor and Costa made an already touching script all the sweeter. Fedor’s singing, too, was lovely, and Costa was so convincing as the smitten Fabrizio that he earned a standing ovation at close of show. His operatic solos in “Il Mondo Era Vuoto” were what threw me into the play, his acting just as impressive as his voice.
Graduate student Hannah Carroll was excellent as Margaret, Clara’s protective, introspective mother. Her character arc tied the entire show together and delivered many of the play’s more emotional moments. Grad students Sarah Forestieri (Franca) and Virginia Sheffield (Signora Naccarelli, and seniors Adam Wells (Guiseppe) and Keith Klein (Signor Naccarelli) were all amazing as Fabrizio’s family, rounding out the cast without a single less than lovely performance. Every relationship felt real, and every song was skillfully performed and well staged.
In today’s troubled times, a show like “The Light in the Piazza” is not only welcome but also necessary. It is as important a relief from chaos as Kodak Hall was from the April-in-Rochester weather. Funny, thoughtful, sometimes heart-wrenching, and always full of hope, “The Light in the Piazza” was, for me, a phenomenal first taste of what the Eastman Theatre has to offer, and I can’t wait until I’m back.