Review | Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall – Southbank Centre ⋆⋆⋆

Don’t we all wish that we could travel to Italy and be whisked away by a charming Italian love interest? If it were that easy I’d say book me on the next flight please. Light in the Piazza, set in 1950s Italy, is a romantic summer musical which takes unexpected turns and touches on mental health themes. I’d say it’s the equivalent of a sparkling glass of lemonade – pleasant and quite refreshing. 

Meet Clara, the sweet and young American girl who is on holiday in Florence with her protective mother, Margaret Johnson. It’s not too long before Clara finds the love of her life, Fabrizio, who rescues her hat and thereafter possesses the mysterious and slightly concerning ability to know Clara’s whereabouts. A romance ensues between the pair and Mrs Johnson does all that she can to separate them. But she is seemingly outnumbered by Fabrizio’s overbearing family who welcome the blossoming love in a stereotypical Italian sense.

Thanks to the performances and music delivered by the mighty Opera North’s 40-piece orchestra live on stage, it’s hard not to be swept up in the light and summery fantasy. The score by Adam Guettel lies somewhere between musical theatre and operetta and has some of the most enchanting melodies I’ve heard in a while, a favourite being ‘The Beauty Is’. Be warned that significant sections of the show are performed in Italian, but you need not understand it all to follow along. The show’s staging has drawn some criticism for looking cramped, but I thought the Italian backdrop fit the large space at the Royal Festival Hall well.

A nice surprise was Dove Cameron’s charming performance as Clara. The Disney Star has mentioned previously that this show has been a dream role of hers and her passion and familiarity with the world which the musical occupies clearly shows. Standout performances are also delivered by Renee Fleming as Mrs Johnson and Rob Houchen as Fabrizio.

The musical’s book is by Craig Lucas and is adapted from the 1960s novella of the same name by Mississippi writer Elizabeth Spencer. The book is based on Elizabeth’s summer experiences in Italy and it shows. Clara’s struggles with mental health are made apparent but never satisfyingly addressed and the musical ends with the predictable happy ending which you could see coming from miles away. But if you accept it for what it is rather than searching for something more, you should be in for an enjoyable evening.

Light in the Piazza is playing at the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre and runs until 5 July at the time of writing.

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