BY SANDY STAGGS
UPDATE: Final Two shows Sunday, June 13 @ 3 & 7 pm!
As Broadway and Upstate performing arts organizations gear up to re-open for indoor shows after some 15 months in the dark, Tryon Shakespeare & Friends treads the ultra-safe route via Florence, Italy with an enchanting presentation of The Light in the Piazza in Tryon’s Rogers Park Amphitheater.
Taking full advantage of the sublime setting of a creek and moat with multiple bridges, the stone walls and walks and the naturalistic setting of an Italian villa and augmenting the pavilion with columns, “marble” walls and colorful backdrops, Director Catherine Gillet and her cast need not sing a single note, before one utters, “You had me at Ciao!”
0h, and what a sweet musical on a warm midsummer night. With a book by Craig Lucas and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, The Light in the Piazza is a romantic boy-meets-girl on holiday. The story for me conjured A Room With A View (also set in Florence) but in this tale a wealthy Southern America mother (played by Lori Corda) attempts to shield her impressionable daughter, Clara, portrayed with wide-eyed naivete by Michelle Newman, from what she considers a Guido – the dashing Chase Wolfe as Fabrizio Nacarelli whose family owns a tailor shop.
At first, one wonders why Margaret is so overly-protective (Munchausen Syndrome by proxy?) of her seemingly 17-year-old daughter (this is the 1950s!). Then, though Corda’s witty exposition breaking the fourth wall and as the young couple nears the alter, we discover Clara is actually 26 years old and suffered a brain injury as a child.
But Margaret, returning to the city that first ignited her loveless marriage to her tobacco executive Roy (Andy Millard), acquiesces, allowing the wedding to proceed and give Clara a chance at happiness, something she coveted but never experienced.
The Light in the Piazza, with music direction by Kevin Arnold, is pure classical musical theatre with operatic parts but very brief arias and sometimes the lightest of snippets. But the score is sublime and exquisitely arranged and played by Holt McCartley on the piano (pre-recorded).
Rounding out this cast in Italian dialects/broken English are Joel Perkin and Marianne Carruth as Signore and Signora Nacarelli, Kevin Arnold as the philandering brother Guiseppi, Ashton Reid as his jealous wife Franca, and Darlene Cah as the Priest.
The highlights that really landed for me were Reid’s The Joy You Feel; Wolf’s Italian musings in Il Mondo Era Vuoto (The World Was Empty); Carruth’s “Passion’ in Aiutami (Help Me); Newman in The Light in the Piazza; and Wolfe’s Love to Me.
The creative team and crew includes Ellie Booth (Producer, Stage Manger, Choreographer; Montana Kern as Technical Designer; Lindsey Moore- Set Designer; Pam Solberg, Jim Solberg- Stage Designers and General Wizards; Suzy Grow, Pam Rider, Pam Solberg- Costume Designers; Rosalind Ashford- Dialect Consultant; and Mari Towne, Jacob Grigg, Hillary Fleming- Stage Hands Extraordinaire.
The Light in the Piazza continues Friday and Saturday, June 11-12 at 7 pm and Sunday, June 13 at 3 pm. All performances are outdoors in Tryon, NC’s beautiful Rogers Park, 55 W. Howard St. Tickets are $10-20 and available at https://www.tryonshakespeare.com/.