The Light in the Piazza
NORTH HOLLYWOOD- A heartwarming theatrical experience for anyone who loves opera, Italy, and romance… this is a charming production. Lovingly presented here by YMTA Productions, and brimming over with stellar performances, this poignant love story plays out beautifully in this intimate theatre space. As if we were actually in Florence, Italy, we witness the wondrous joy of young love as it blossoms… along with its purity, imperfections, and challenges. It was written with passionate sensitivity and a poignant understanding of family dynamics by Craig Lucas (book), and Adam Guettal (music and lyrics), based on a novella by Elizabeth Spencer. We take a thoughtful and humorous journey, straight to the “heart” of the matter. (F.Y.I. – Guettel is the grandson of Broadway’s music icon, Richard Rogers, and son of lyricist, Mary Rogers. Librettist, Lucas, is best known for penning the plays/films “A Prelude to a Kiss” and “Reckless.” In its 2005 New York Lincoln Center run, “Piazza” scored six Tony Awards and four Drama Desk Awards.) The songs are wonderful… though for me, some of the melodies are oddly discordant. Brilliantly setting the emotional tone and conveying the story, musically directed by Michiko Hill and his classical chamber orchestra, the lyrics are inspiring. As the story begins, we meet Margaret Johnson, an American, and her lovely, innocently naïve daughter Clara, on a “girl’s holiday” trip, touring the countryside of Italy. An unexpected gust of wind blows Clara’s hat from her head, fatefully landing at the feet of Fabrizio, a handsome young Italian man. Sparks fly… and the two fall instantly in love. Though Margaret (who harbors a secret about her daughter’s life) tries in vain to discourage this budding European romance… their smitten feelings are stronger than her resistance… and nature takes its course. In these three lovable lead roles, a trio of breathtaking performances totally captivates the audience! T.V. and stage notable, Mary Donnelly Haskell, plays Margaret with classy charm and a stunning vocal skill. As the enamored Fabrizio, Blake Ewing won our hearts with his fresh and flustered attempt at speaking English, and a gorgeous operatic voice. Stephanie Wall was blissfully innocent with a singling “gift” and an infectious smile that could melt a glacier. In fact, under the majestically magnificent direction of William Robert Ewing, this entire cast fares well! Jonathan Kruger (as Fabrizio’s “oh so suave” father), Darius Rose (as his “cheeky” brother), Dena Drotar (as his dutiful and selfless mother) and Christine M. Capsuto (as his “hot blooded” sister-in-law) all shine brightly! Effective overseas phone call segments by Gregory Franklin, as Margaret’s “distant” husband and Clara’s father. The ensemble actors, in multi-roles, added much color to the festivities! This is a very talented cast! Christopher Scott Murillo’s romantic set designs, Patricia Jennings’ flairfully attractive 1950’s period costuming, and Libby Jensen’s lighting, round out the kudos! Do book a “flight” now for this “feel good” Italian getaway! Running Thursdays through Sundays only through July 26th at The El Portal Forum – 5269 Lankershim Blvd. in NoHo. Call 818-508-4200.
Afterthought: The “delectable” after party and opening night feast was hosted by local NoHo hot spot, “Spumante.” I’ve never been there… but I sure will now!
SOUTH PASADENA- Master story-teller Ray Bradbury has captivated the world for decades with his keen sci-fi tales of the puzzling, unexpected, and unexplained sides of life. On stage, film, and in books, he has always inspired us to consider “other worldly” views. Sometimes eerie and dark… sometimes funny, touching, or sweet… but always “thought-provoking!” At 89 years old, his mind seems to be a phenomenal magic clock that just keeps on ticking! This trio of Ray’s curious stories is no exception! Two are old favorites, and one is presented on stage here for the first time. Produced by Bradbury and Racquel Lehrman (Theatre Planners), and impeccably directed by Alan Neal Hubbs… as always a flawless cast has been chosen to bring his tales to life. Sensationally surreal!
A Device Out of Time
A duo of precociously inquisitive boys discover a secret of “time travel” through the wisdom and recollections of an eerie old gent, who tells them true stories of past wars and pertinent world events. David Fox-Brenton is chillingly captivating as the Colonel with all of the answers… and brothers, Daniel and Seth Casanova, delightfully depict the wide-eyed innocence and curiosity of youth. Ingeniously moody lighting design, in all three vignettes, by Peter Strauss, must be applauded!
Two lonely adult sisters, keeping each other company, contemplate the cistern that runs beneath their city. As Juliet quietly mends a quilt (a focused Roses Prichard), Anna wistfully stares out the window on a rainy day, and contemplates a “deeply in love” dead couple, who she believes blissfully exists forever under the streets… free from the manic world and flowing with the seasons. (A gut-wrenching performance by Georgan George as Anna.)
(My favorite… in its premiere staging.) Smith, an elderly backstage night watchman at a motion picture studio, after decades of loyal duty, sadly faces its demolition the following day. The fond memories, history, and beloved sets from all over the world have been his life. A hypnotically heartwarming performance by Michael Prichard! When a workman (Robert Kerr) and a cop (Andy Sell) try to evacuate him, he summons Mr. Douglas, the studio’s “big wig,” for a cathartic conversation. As this powerful “studio head” with a heart beneath a tough veneer, Steven Robert Wollenberg is dynamic, and the scene they share is gripping! Costumes by Howard Schmitt, sound by Robert Arturo Ramirez, and clever set (un-credited), set the tone nicely. Running through September 5th at The Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena. Call 323-960-4451.
More to come next time…