Love and Despair in 1950s Florence at Escondido Production of ‘Light in the Pizza’

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Madison Claire Parks as Clara and Nigel Huckle as Fabrizio in “The Light in the Square.” Photo by Ken Jacques

“The Light in the Piazza” is about passion: the thrill of finding her in first love, the will to fight for her in the midst of a marital relationship, the despair of feeling she’s gone forever in a long-term marriage.

The six-time award-winning 2005 musical is set in 1950s Florence (and briefly Rome), amid extreme emotion.

Anger, jealousy and disappointment are expressed with fervor – in passionate Italian, in broken (and fluent) English and in song.

And yet, in the production of the new company, CCAE Theatricals, at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido, the ardor seems somewhat stifled, repressed. There is a similarity in the emotional tone.

That’s not to say the vocals aren’t superb (it is).

But the piece itself is tricky – it veers from typical musical fare into the realm of classical and operatic. There’s a lot of breaking the fourth wall, to talk and explain the action (or backstory) to the audience. In one case, the story comes from a woman who speaks to us in English, although she only speaks Italian on the show.

Most of the time, however, it’s Margaret speaking to us, giving us her conflicted feelings and family background.

Originally from North Carolina, she came to Florence for her honeymoon, about thirty years ago, when the passion was flowing.

Now she’s back, with her 26-year-old daughter Clara, but not her husband, who is too busy climbing the cigarette industry ladder.

Margaret wants Clara to see and do everything she and Roy did before. She wants to recapture her own early rapture for the place. She read Clara the history of all the buildings, statues, paintings and ruins.

But Clara is more taken by the light… and the piazza, the main square where she meets and falls in love with the handsome and charming young Fabrizio Naccarelli.

Margaret is extremely overprotective of Clara who, emboldened by a new and deep mutual love, holds out the reins and is ready to break loose. But Margaret is suspicious, to say the least.

At age 12, Clara had an accident that set her back educationally and emotionally. Her father describes her as “handicapped”. Her mother reluctantly admits (and Clara overhears) that she is “not normal”.

Clara tends to have meltdowns when lost or confused (although important to the story, these are significantly understated in this production).

Marriage is in sight, but Margaret struggles to let go – or tell the Naccarelli family the truth. It doesn’t seem to matter.

Despite the language barrier, Fabrizio is able to communicate perfectly with Clara and see her as she really is. And isn’t that the true definition of love?

Nancy Snow Carr does a great job as Margaret, and she has a great voice.

As Clara, Madison Claire Parks has a delightful, raving way about her. She also has a strong soprano voice (there are a plethora of sopranos here).

Nigel Huckle, one of ten tenors on tour, is endearing as Fabrizio, and commanding baritone John La Londe is powerful as Fabrizio’s father.

The 15-piece cast makes great music, as does the excellent 15-piece orchestra, under the direction of Lisa LeMay.

The score, with music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, son of musical composer Mary Rodgers and grandson of the great Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame), is quite challenging, richly orchestrated but not always melodic. The book is by Craig Lucas (“Prelude to a Kiss”), leans heavily on saying when it should be released.

When I saw the original production at Lincoln Center, I was stunned, smitten with emotion. In 2008 Lamb’s Players Theater did a great job with the play.

But this time I just wasn’t swept away. The show was very well designed and executed, but it kept me away; I didn’t feel it inside like before.

I was certainly impressed with the production values ​​- an incredibly changeable set (designed by Joe Holbrook), with its pillars and arches and giant statue of Michelangelo’s David.

The lighting (Nick Van Houten) is magnificent. The sound (Jon Fredette) is sharp and the costumes (Janet Pitcher) are era-appropriate and varied, if not always flattering.

All in all, I could say that I loved everything about this production – but I wanted to fall in love.


  • “Light in the Square” until June 25 at California Center for the Arts in Escondido
  • Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
  • Tickets ($40 to $100) are available at 800-988-4253 or online at artcenter.org/education/ccae-theatricals
  • Operating time: 2 hours 20 minutes.
  • COVID protocol: proof of vaccination and masks are no longer required

Pat Launer, a member of the American Theater Critics Association, is a longtime San Diego arts writer and Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of his previews and reviews can be found at patlauner.com.


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