The Light In The Piazza
Royal Festival Hall, London ★★★✩✩
The Light In The Piazza garnered six Tony Awards on Broadway in 2005 and now comes to London starring A-list operatic superstar Renee Fleming. A surefire hit, right?
Positives first. Fleming sounds glorious and acts up a storm in the role of Margaret, a frustrated 1950s American mother on holiday with her daughter in Florence. When she’s on stage, things somehow crackle and sparkle. She’s the big draw and boy, does she earn her fee.
She gets a couple of sophisticated numbers, including one — Dividing Day — in which she reflects on the state of her moribund marriage.
But the rest of Adam Guettel’s music is a mix of operetta-lite lushness and substitute Sondheim. It’s pleasant enough, but never quite socking the punch it aims for. The dramatic stakes in Craig Lucas’s book are so low as to be invisible too. Margaret is concerned about a budding romance between her daughter Clara (Dove Cameron) and local sweetheart Fabrizio (Rob Houchen).
There’s ‘something wrong’ with Clara, we discover. Turns out she was hit on the head as a tot and will ‘never be normal’. But since Clara’s so-called condition seems to result in nothing more than an excess of cuteness and feistiness, we can guess how it will all end. It’s as manufactured as it sounds.
The costumes are fabulous, Daniel Evans’s production slick, and Alex Jennings shines in an under-written supporting role. But the rest? The lights may be on, but the piazza’s empty.