A ‘Light’ shines in Waukesha

By - Sep 23rd, 2009 11:23 am
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LightInPiazzaWaukesha Civic Theater opened its 53rd season with The Light in the Piazza, a production of Adam Guettel’s six-time Tony Award-winning show, based on the book by Craig Lucas.

Piazza is an extraordinary accomplishment for a Broadway show. It is much more a showpiece of modern musical writing than a typical collection of easily remembered melodies. At times, it is more opera than musical.

Set in 1953 Italy, the plot is really a simple love story. An American mother and daughter named Margaret and Clara Johnson are vacationing in Florence when a young local boy, Fabrizio Naccarelli, encounters the duo on the piazza. The classic boy-meets-girl romance then ensues in song. The scene is replete with all the trimmings, including the inevitable twist that may undo the whole process. But of course — there’s another twist.

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Nadine Borngraeber and Kristel Metsig in a scene from Light in the Piazza. Photo by Carroll Studios Photography.

The play is also partially sung and spoken in Italian. But no need to feel left out. One scene is delightfully deconstructed for the audience by an impromptu translation.

WCT Director Elaine Wyler’s adroit staging and musical direction by Jenee O’Connor move the cast through this production with a balanced control and beautiful vocal command. Patricia Fox Schindler’s costumes well suit the 1950s setting. The set by designer Jeff Schulz is relatively sparce, but architectural structures and projected images support the action throughout the performance. Numerous scene changes from exterior and interior realms is efficient and smooth. The only weakness here was an ancient torso suspended downstage that obstructed sight lines for the duration of the museum scene.

Nadine Borngraeber performs Margaret by showing a natural emotional affinity in the role of watchful mother, with a voice that is clear and articulate. Ashley Sprangers manages some wonderful vocal accrobatics as Franca Naccarelli, the frustrated wife of Frabrizio’s womanizing brother, Giuseppe — played very capably by Nicholas Buendia. Kristel Metsig plays the consumate naïve American tourist in Clara, with a light and contemporary voice. She smoothly blends modern harmonies with Fabrizio in a lover’s duet that concludes the first act.

The true light in this musical is Matthew Walton. The young actor appears for the second time at WCT, and will no doubt be seen and heard here and elsewhere again. He portrays and sings the role of Fabrizio with a sincere innocence and a particular charm that steals the show. His voice is well suited to the score’s modern intracasies and delivers his role with a energetic sovereignty.

Matthew Walton, Nicholas Buendia, Ashley Sprangers, and Tod Herdt enjoy Florence in WCT's production.

Matthew Walton, Nicholas Buendia, Ashley Sprangers, and Tod Herdt enjoy Florence in WCT’s production.

This is an evening of true entertainment. Piazza is a wonderful work that tests the performers in its musical strong points. They pass the test. It’s not an everyday musical in its sound and that’s refreshing. For Milwaukee theatergoers, travelling out to Waukesha for a evening’s entertainment might seem like too much of an effort when the city already offers such a good range of theater and music. Waukesha Civic Theatre’s current show might broaden that horizon.

Light in the Piazza runs weekends now through October 4. More information and ticketing can be found at the WCT website, or call 262-547-0708.

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