The Light in the Piazza | Life Like CompanyPhotos – Ben Fon

Set in the 1950s, an American mother and daughter are travelling through Florence, when a chance meeting with a young Italian man leads to a romantic attraction between the young couple. But as family secrets threaten the relationship, a mother must choose whether to reveal the past or believe in love. 

Based on a novella by Elizabeth SpencerCraig Lucas (book) and Adam Guettel (music and lyrics) have a crafted a lovely boutique-style musical that has an operatic tone to it to bring what is essentially 50s melodrama to life. 

There is much charm to The Light in the Piazza aided by some beautiful music. Here is a thoughtful piece not just about young love, but also about mothers and families, and the opportunity to grow.  

In a carefully realised production, the work would stand out even more than here. Unfortunately this production suffers slightly from some uneven moments and from some performances that seem too forced. 

Most noticeable is the Southern drawl given to the mother, Margaret Johnson, played by Chelsea Plumley, which tends to be distracting, rather than effective. Unfortunate, as the role is pivotal to the story-line. Plumley is a fine performer however, delivering a strong performance and blossoms in a role that has a lovely arc to it.

As the Italian parents, Johanna Allen and Anton Berezin are both impressive. Berezin is especially strong in his scenes, while Allen has a beautiful moment translating her family's thoughts to the audience. What is unusual and adds to the charm is that many scenes are performed in Italian, without the need for any surtitles. 

As the girl Clara – a character that is quite complex, Genevieve Kingsford is excellent vocally, but delivers a performance that at times seems a little over-played. 

The standout performance in this production, though, is Jonathan Hickey as Fabrizio, the young man. In almost every scene, he is totally believable as the romantic Italian most likely to sweep your daughter off her feet. With a beautiful, charming accent Hickey proves that he is an accomplished actor as well as a fine tenor. 

Director Theresa Borg has invested a lot into this work and the staging is often quite striking and visually arresting. There are moments though when a little subtlety could have been more effective. 

The orchestra under the direction of Vanessa Scammell makes the score shine and deserves the rousing applause at the finale. 

Additional treats include the stunning array of costumes by Kim Bishop and wig design by Corinne Day. Absolutely perfect for the period and tone of the story. 

Life Like Company are to be applauded for bringing rarely performed and sometimes challenging works to our stages. And while this is an enjoyable production, it feels like it could have delivered even more.

Life Like Company presents
music and lyrics Adam Guettel | book Craig Lucas | based on a novella by Elizabeth Spencer

Directed by Theresa Borg

Venue: Playhouse | Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 28 October – 6 November 2016.

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