Jacklyn Grigg is Clara Johnson and Miles Obrey is Fabrizio Naccarelli in City Theater’s “The Light In The Piazza” running through March 24 at the City Theater in Biddeford. COURTESY PHOTO/Ben Keller

One of the most beautiful, refreshing and enjoyable pieces of musical theater is now running at City Theater in Biddeford. 

“The Light In The Piazza” is a gorgeous romance musical that departs from the traditional contemporary Broadway genre and takes the viewer to 1950s Florence, Italy, for a powerful and inspiring fable of love about taking risks, letting go, and reaching dreams.

Directed by Linda Sturdivant, with a book by Craig Lucas and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, “The Light In The Piazza” showcases a brilliant cast of singers, actors and musicians who successfully create a live two-hour tableau mixing American humor and Italian culture with amazing neoclassical music, light operatic vocals, and the challenging dynamics of two very different families, all presented with a backdrop of vibrant Italian history, architecture and art. While much of the conversations and songs are in superbly-executed Italian, one need not be fluent to understand this romance language. 

On the first morning of their visit to Florence in the summer of 1953, Margaret Johnson (Rebecca Rinaldi) and her daughter Clara (Jacklyn Grigg) are exploring the piazza when Clara’s hat is taken by the wind and is captured by Fabrizio Naccarelli (Miles Obrey). It is love at first sight, and the beginning of the classic mother-daughter conflicts, and the clash between the Naccarelli’s, who support Fabrizio’s new-found love, and Mrs. Johnson, who eventually reveals a childhood accident left Clara with an emotional abnormality that could potentially impact her future. 

Mom is determined to keep the accident a secret but despite her efforts to protect her daughter from being hurt (or is it perhaps to keep Clara from reliving her own unhappy journey with her husband Ron that began in the same piazza during the war days a couple of decades prior?), the magnetism between the young couple is too powerful. Marriage is now proposed.

To distract Clara from thinking about a wedding, Margaret takes her to Rome, where tensions reach a turning point when Margaret slaps Clara across the face in a painful confrontation that causes Mom to realize she must let go of her fears and doubts and let her daughter follow her own dreams.

The wedding is on … until the rehearsal when Signor Naccarelli (Brian McAloon) suddenly calls off the wedding and takes his family away. Clara is devastated. 

Margaret feels responsible for her daughter’s suffering and meets with Signor Naccarelli who explains he saw Clara write her age — 26 — on her marriage form and his son is only 20, making the marriage unsuitable. Relieved it was not Clara’s secret that was the problem, Mom reasons with Signor Naccarelli to successfully put the wedding back on track.

But Clara, thinking she is unworthy of love, runs to Fabrizio to tell him she doesn’t want to cause him any pain and cannot marry him. But he convinces her that since that moment in the piazza when her hat was carried off by the wind, that she will never be alone and that he now sees what love is. The wedding goes off without a hitch and the fable comes to an end.

What make “The Light In The Piazza” so unique and astounding are the rich orchestral arrangements and the glorious, lush vocals that permeate the theater with majestic command. The slow deliveries of well-crafted lyrics — and even the sustained oohs, ahhs and simple vocalizations — are loaded with oozing romance, tension, curiosity, suspicions, etc. The unpredictable dissonant melodies are delightful and alluring.

The principles are all powerhouse masterful singers: Rebecca Rinaldi (Margaret Johnson), Jacklyn Grigg (Clara Johnson), Miles Obrey (Fabrizio Naccarelli), Brian McAloon (Signor Naccarelli), Mary Lettelier (Franca Naccarelli), Owen White (Guiseppe Naccarelli), Shaunna Lucas (Signora Naccarelli), Tim Steiner (Roy Johnson) and Adam Normand (The Priest).

The entire cast delivers their A-game performances. Special mention is given to Miles Obrey for his extraordinary work as Fabrizio — his inate animation, scene-driving passion, outstanding vocals, perfect Italian characterization from dialogue inflections to hand gestures … a natural tour de force role for his resume.

The Ensemble proved (as always) to be a trademark asset to this show’s success, tastefully choreographing effortless set-changes and completing tableaus as various and sundry characters. Bravi Emily Butson, Cecilia Guerra, Brian Harris, Andrew Lamb, Leslie Lampert, Addison Littlefield, Sally McGrath, Mark Nahorney, Valerie Nahorney, Danielle Robichaud and Lynne White.

The beautiful orchestration was perfectly executed by Sara Sturdivant, Music Director, on piano, Mo Nichols on harp, Sue LaVerriere on violin, Alex Wong on cello and Jimmy McGirr on bass.

Brava to Choreographer Mariel Roy and Bravo to Technical Director Karl Carrigan for the simply stunning sets.

“The Light In The Piazza” runs through March 24. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.  For more information, contact 282-0849 or www.citytheater.org.

— Louis Philippe is a theater reviewer for the Journal Tribune.

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