If I had to choose an ideal location to explore all things beautiful and passionate, no doubt it’d be Italy.
This weekend, at the Arthur Miller Theatre, students from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance present “The Light in the Piazza,” a musical exploring the beauty of love and the challenges that follow.
As a studio production, the show centers on actors’ creations and the depth they bring toward telling this story.
“Being a story of relationships and human connection, this show lends itself well to a minimal, actor-centric approach,” director Brian Hill wrote in an e-mail interview with The Michigan Daily. “I knew that everything was going to have to be actor generated.”
With a cast of 15 musical theatre students, a five-piece orchestra and strong technical design, this production will, as Hill puts it, “feel like a full meal.”
Adapted from Elizabeth Spencer’s novel, with music and lyrics by Adam Guettel and a book by Craig Lucas, “The Light in the Piazza” is set in the 1950s and tells the story of Clara and Margaret Johnson, a family from North Carolina, who spend the summer in Florence. Clara, Margaret’s daughter, falls in love with a local Italian, Fabrizio, which Margaret strongly opposes.
Premiering on Broadway in April of 2005, “Piazza” was a huge success — which doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering the talent of the original cast, including Victoria Clark as Margaret, Kelli O’Hara as Clara and Matthew Morrison as Fabrizio. The original production won six Tony Awards, including Best Original Score, Best Orchestrations and Clark took home an award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.
While casting the production with such strong roots, Hill sought honesty in each character. He acknowledged that no one is exactly like the members of the original cast, just as no one is exactly like SMTD students Kaity Paschetto (Margaret), Christina Maxwell (Clara) or Luke Steinhauer (Fabrizio).
“I prefer to let the actors’ individuality dictate the interpretation,” Hill wrote.
Hill’s vision for the show focuses on what each actor brings to the work and how their contributions further enhance the story. Due to the simplicity of the technical elements of this production, stagecraft such as a hat caught in the wind, one of the most well-known scenes of the show, was created through the actors’ choices rather than technical support.
“Knowing that we had that limitation set the tone for the physical vocabulary of the show … it has been a constantly shifting process finding out how to use this vocabulary as effectively as possible.”
Hill’s reaction to these adjustments is not one of deterrence.
“I love limitations. They always lead to creative solutions,” he wrote.
While considering themes “Piazza” illuminates, Hill lets the story move naturally.
“I think story comes first and theme follows as a byproduct,” Hill wrote. “My main objective has been to tell this gorgeous story truthfully.”
And just as each actor brings something distinct and unique to the roles that audiences have grown to love, Hill believes each audience member takes something different away from this production.
“One of the happy surprises for me is how much of an ensemble piece this play really is,” Hill wrote, while describing the development of this work. “This company has found a way to tell this story as a true ensemble.”
Just as you’d expect, the incredible talent of SMTD students has led to very high demand for tickets.
“Though I’m told the run is already sold out, if you can get a ticket to see the show … do,” Hill wrote. “This cast is extraordinary and the entire company from orchestra to crew is creating something very special.”