Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
This is one of the theater's most successful productions in a while, with director Eric Davis perfectly capturing the tone, shifting moods, and high emotionalism of this story. He is aided by a very strong cast. Melissa Minyard in the central role of Margaret Johnson has huge shoes to fill; Victoria Clark, who originated the role, won a Tony for her performance and many years later theater cognoscenti still cite this as one of their most memorable performances. Christine Andreas, a brilliant talent who has never quite received the recognition she deserves, played Margaret on tour. Miss Minyard gives an excellent performance which just proves the adage that a brilliant performance derives from a brilliantly written part. She captures the deep hidden fears and sings all of her vocally difficult music very well. She anchors this production in exactly the way this character needs to be to hold this story together. It may be one of the strongest performances I have seen all year.
Kelly Pekar plays her daughter Clara. She sings the part well; it was originated by Kelli O'Hara, who has achieved great stardom on Broadway so it also is vocally challenging. I don't know that she acts the part quite as strongly. I haven't always been a champion of Ms. Pekar's work, but this is one of her best performances. Opposite her, as he has been almost all year, is Nick Lerew. He continues to grow with each show, it seems. He captures the immaturity of Fabrizio, only 20, and the aching love he feels for Clara. Mr. Lerew's singing is very strong, his aria of yearning love "Il Mondo Era Vuoto" a highlight. He and Ms. Pekar show good chemistry, and the deepening romance is believable. Stephan James Jones plays Signor Naccarelli, the strong male presence in the family that any good Italian father would be. Elizabeth Sackett plays his wife, Robert Teasdale his other son Giuseppe, and Jennifer Byrne his daughter-in-law Franca to complete the Naccarelli family. Rand Smith plays Roy Johnson and a priest. In lieu of an ensemble in the streets of Florence, we are offered dancer Joshua Romero as The Statue, who dances very well and looks like he could have posed for a statue.
Eric Davis has directed this cast magnificently so that the relationships within the two families are clearly delineated. Margaret and Clara share a deep bond, formed over many years. All members of the Naccarelli family interact as a family. Musical director Michael Raabe, who always does fine work for freeFall, here rises to new heights. I don't know his musical abilities outside of his work in this theater, but this is a challenging score and he leads the small orchestra with great nuance and deep understanding for its modal/melodic drive. Whoever coached these actors in Italian did a magnificent job. Mr. Jones weaves between just short of perfect Italian and broken English and Mr. Lerew does very well by the Italian text of his aria. Charles Murdock Lucas has contributed wonderful scenic designs that define the Italian setting, David Covach's costumes are dead on accurate for the period, and Ryan Finzelber lights all of it beautifully. Everyone at freeFall is at the top of their game for this production.
The Light in the Piazza is not the easiest musical to approach and embrace, but the show had a very healthy run at Lincoln Center and the audience I attended with here seemed to love it. freeFall deserves to have a big hit with this outstanding production.
freeFall Theatre Company presents The Light in the Piazza, through July 17, 2016, at 6099 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg. For ticket and performance information, visit www.freefalltheatre.com.
Cast (in alphabetical order):
The Orchestra (in alphabetical order):
Director: Eric Davis