by Lucy Allen
Acting Up Stage Company’s Light in the Piazza, which opened last night at the Berekley Street Theatre, is the sort of light, airy musical that I kept expecting to go down darker alleys the way most modern musicals do now. Much to my surprise, the simple and sincere love story stayed just that way. And surprisingly, I was pretty okay with that.
Light in the Piazza takes place in 1953 Florence, Italy. It tells the story of Margaret (Patty Jamieson) and her slightly mentally challenged daughter, Clara (Jacquelyn French), who have come to Italy on vacation. Clara meets Fabrizio (Jeff Lillico), a young Italian man who of course instantly falls in love with her despite her odd ways. Margaret tries to keep her sheltered daughter away to shield her from any emotional pain but inevitably Fabrizio is persistent enough to turn their world upsidedown.
The story is a simple one, but structurally is a bit jolting. Most of the problems that arise are solved within minutes of their appearance. I kept waiting for Fabrizio to have doubts about Clara’s stability, but he never falters in his love for her. Then just as I thought I had the formula down, the show ends on one of the most anti-climatic notes I’ve seen yet. It was a good and sweet moment, to be sure, but I was waiting for the next scene to begin and suddenly the cast was coming out for their curtain call.
The music, performed by a five-piece chamber orchestra, is elegant and romantic and reflects the playfulness and longing between Clara and Fabrizio perfectly. The orchestra, normally a disembodied presence I take for granted, can physically be seen a scrim on the stage making them seem much more a part of the action. It’s a small detail, but one that I appreciated. At points the musical numbers tended to drag for my show partner Steven, who isn’t the biggest fan of musical theatre, but for me it perfectly captured the thrill of a first love.
The best surprise of the show, though, came with its use of Italian. How many shows or movies have you seen set in a foreign country where every single character magically speaks English? In Light in the Piazza, the Italians both sing and speak in Italian, only using English when around the English characters and even then most of it is broken. There are quite a few scenes entirely in Italian, but this shouldn’t daunt you. The director and cast do a great job of conveying what happens in the scene without making you feel lost. In fact, my favourite scenes usually ended up being the ones in Italian.
Jacquelyn French as Clara does well in balancing her childish ramblings with emotional depth, and shines most in her heartwrenching performance of “The Light in the Piazza”. Jeff Lillico as her love Fabrizio also provides a lot of charm and sincerity to a role that could easily be put in the background. But the scene stealer by far was Juan Chioran as Fabrizio’s father. Any scene between him and his two sons left the audience in hysterics, yet he could bring the tone right back down with a raised eyebrow.
Light in the Piazza may not be for the more cynical among us, but for those of us who are in need of a simple, light hearted love story during the dark and depressing winter, this is definitely a show to check out.
–Light in the Piazza is playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs (26 Berkeley Street) until February 21
-Shows are Thurs-Sat 8pm, Sat 2pm and Sun 7pm
-Tickets range from $30-45, and are $22 for students and arts workers
-Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 416-368-3110
Photograph of Jeff Lillico and Jacquelyn French by Joanna McDermot