by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Valdosta Georgia’s Peach State Summer Theatre opened its third and final production of 2012, with the winner of six Tony Awards, “The Light in the Piazza” on June 22nd. It will play in repertory with “Legally Blonde” until July 15th. All performances of the 23rd PSST season are in the Fine Arts Building/Sawyer Theatre on the campus of Valdosta State University.
This is the premier North Florida/South Georgia production of the musical, which debuted on Broadway in 2005. The musical score won the Tony Award for musicals and requires exceptional voices due to its operatic styling. Set in Florence, Italy in 1953, it is the first bilingual Broadway musical. Some of the songs are sung in Italian and a bit of the dialogue is also in that language.
The story is based on a short novel by Elizabeth Spencer adapted as a musical by Adam Guettel (music and lyrics) with book by playwright Craig Lucas, whose previous works include “Prelude to a Kiss” and “Reckless.” A 1962 movie filmed in Italy stared Olivia de Havilland in the leading role.
This lavishly staged and intriguing love story concerns Margaret, a middle-aged Southern housewife, who brings her daughter Clara to Florence to see the wonders of the city where Margaret had her honeymoon years before. Clara quickly meets and falls in love with the young and handsome Fabrizio. The mother is compassionate but tries to keep the two apart. Clara, though twenty-six years old and beautiful, has the limited mental and emotional development of a twelve-year-old due to a past accidental injury. While the audience picks up on her child-like behavior, Fabrizio is unaware of the issue, perhaps because of his rudimentary English skills. The Naccarelli family takes to Clara and encourages the marriage until Signor Naccarelli discovers Clara is twenty-six. This is unacceptable; his son is only twenty and it is against custom for a young man to marry an older women. While this is ultimately not an insurmountable problem, Margaret faces a dilemma: to sanction what may be her daughter’s only chance to find a loving, devoted husband, or to take her home to face a lonely and emotionally bleak future. Not wanting to be a spoiler we will leave the outcome for you to discover when you see the production.
The cast is outstanding. Jacque Wheeler is believable and splendid as the mother. She is veteran of many musicals as a leading lady (Mame, Gypsy and most recently as Ouiser in “Steel Magnolias” at the Show Palace Dinner Theater in Hudson, Florida). Ms. Wheeler actually provides most of the humor in this play with her observations of how people lead their lives. She handles the challenging songs with aplomb. Playing Clara is her real life daughter Megan Wheeler, who is just perfect for this role, with a wonderful voice. After her 2009 graduation from Valdosta State University, Megan embarked on a professional theatre career and now makes her home in New York City.
As the glamorous boyfriend Fabrizio, Kelly Methven is impressive; not only does he have an excellent Italian-accented voice, he sings a couple of very operatic-like songs in Italian. The Naccarelli family was delightful, with exceptionally good characterizations by all, which included Fabrizio’s father and mother (David Lee Johnson, Rose Cutulli Wray,) his brother Giuseppe (Robert Teasdale,) and Giuseppe’s wife Franca (Sara Michele).
The only non-singer in the musical was Margaret’s husband (Roy Johnson) and all his conversations were by transatlantic telephone. Kevin Mark Harris was very authentic as the Catholic priest. Appearing as the maids were Sarah Mitchel, and Sara Beth Moseley, the nuns were Holly Dickerson and Rebecca Brunelle.
Our favorite song and scene was “Lets Walk” with Signor Naccarelli and Margaret walking while singing about the fates of his son and her daughter
The eight- piece orchestra under the direction of Paul J. Guilbeau is tucked away backstage. The complex orchestrations were handled in a superbly by the musicians. Special kudos go to Sound Designer, Anna Warda Alex. The actors were miked and the sound was balanced and clear at all times.
Stars of this production include the sets by Scenic Designer Tom Hansen and the evocative lighting design by Genny Wynn. We truly felt we were in Florence. The background depicted the famous Cathedral topped with Brunelleschi’s dome, set against a vivid sunset sky. Ancient columns and Renaissance statuary added to the illusion.
The costumes by Esther Iverson were visual interesting and authentic, with defined waistlines and short full skirts for the women, complete with hat and gloves, and well-tailored suits for the men.
If you appreciate high quality theatre performances, than by all means take a theatre trip to Valdosta and the Peach State Summer Theatre. It is just a two-hour trip from Jacksonville with Interstate highway driving. Valdosta has a lot to offer in places to stay and restaurants to enjoy. The Dual Critics started following this professional theatre back when they performed outdoors on Jekyll Island. Eight years ago, they moved into ideal surroundings at Valdosta State, with a wonderfully comfortable performing space and the shows have been better than ever. Visit their website for details at www.valdosta.edu/psst or call (229) 259-7770 for reservations and information.
THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM