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Thursday, April 14, 2005

 

FabReview: Doubt and The Light in the Piazza

It took all season, but I've finally found a musical that truly belongs on the list of new millennium classic: The Light in the Piazza, which opens next week at Lincoln Center. Based on Elizabeth Spencer novel of the same name (it was also adapted into a 1962 film starring Olivia de Havilland, Rosanno Brazzi, and Yvette Mimieux), it features a score by Adam Guettel (Floyd Collins) and a book by Craig Lucas (Reckless, Longtime Companion). It is, simply put, as close to ecstacy as musical theatre can get.

A deceptively simple story of an American mother and daughter traveling in Italy, it explores the first flush of teenage love against a sumptuously gorgeous landscape. The sets, lighting, and costumes are impeccable (it may be the best-designed show of the new millennium), and Guettel's music transports the listener with surprising, complex melodies and insightful observations.

And the performances! Victoria Clark should win the Tony for her moving and dextrous performance of a battle-weary Southern matriarch; her Act One soliloquy, "Dividing Day", is maybe the best exploration of marital woes since Sondheim's "Everyday A Little Death", written over thirty years ago. I've never been a fan of Kelli O'Hara, who plays the daughter...but this is unquestionably the best work of her career. The ensemble includes great turns by Sarah Uriarte Berry (as a feisty Italian housewife), Felicity LaFortune, Matthew Morrison, and the magnificent Mark Harelik.

I expect The Light in the Piazzais way ahead of its time, so don't be surprised if the doofuses masquerading as theatre critics give it a thumbs-down when it opens next week. It's too subtle for many theatregoers, and I'll frankly be surprised if it turns into a hit. Still, I urge you to ignore the naysayers and go anyway, especially if you enjoy thought-provoking musicals (think Sondheim, think Ricky Ian Gordon...it's not hummable, per se, but it's magical). I walked out of Lincoln Center as if I were floating.

I also caught up with Doubt last night, late as I am (it won the Pulitzer Prize last week, and is the frontrunner for this year's Tony). It's an extremely well-constructed play that asks interesting questions about absolutism and the dangers of obstinacy and inflexibility...especially as they relate to the Catholic Church. The performances make the experiences in my opinion: superb turns by Tony winners Cherry Jones and Brian F. O'Byrne, and career-topping supporting work by newcomer Heather Goldenhersh and veteran Adriane Lenox.

Doubt did not, however, have me at hello. It's a small play that is now on a vast, uncompromising stage, and it suffers a lack of intimacy that it desperately needs. I kept waiting to be swept up in its central controversy, and I never was. It's a great evening at the theatre, without question...but those looking to have their hearts captured as well as their minds would do better with The Light in the Piazza.

Next week, once all the openings are through for the season (Glengarry Glen Ross, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, etc.), I'll post my Tony Award Nomination predictions.

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