by Lorie Lewis Ham
The Light In The Piazza opened this past weekend to mostly sold out crowds. This is only the second show by a new theatre company in Fresno, StageWorks Fresno, and both of their shows have been some of the best theatre I’ve seen in the area.
The Light In The Piazza takes place in Italy in 1953. An American mother and daughter are on vacation in Florence. The emotional core of the show’s story lies within the relationship between mother and daughter–Margaret (the mother) has a very hard time letting Clara go. It is heartbreaking but in a beautiful way, stated Director Joel C. Abels, who is also the Artistic Director for the company. The Light In The Piazza won six Tony awards and four Drama Desk awards when it opened in 2005 on Broadway at Lincoln Center.
Joel said when choosing a show he mainly tries to pick those that have not been produced before in Fresno, and those he considers to be truly masterful works of musical theatre art. Their first show was
[Title of Show], last fall. “When I saw Piazza in 2005 at Lincoln Center, I absolutely fell in love with the story and the score. I tend to want to take on projects that challenge me and push my actors in a new and different direction. This show certainly does that.”
One of the biggest challenges for them as a start up theatre company is that they have to create/build everything from the ground up, continued Joel. “Which is great fun but also pretty exhausting. Also, the way I chose to stage the show has created some challenges as well. I am staging the show in an ‘Avenue’ style, with the audience on two sides. It took a bit of getting used to for my actors but they have all mastered it quite well.”
With a minimal use of set pieces and props, StageWorks did a good job of setting the scene for this show. With some parts of the show being in Italian, the cast did a splendid job of making you believe the Italian part of the cast really were all Italian. However, it was always easy to understand the meaning of everything even if you didn’t understand the words at times.
Amelia Ryan played the mother Margaret and provided some of the best acting of the show—both humorous and heart wrenching. Taylor Abels, who has a lovely voice, played the daughter Clara. There wasn’t a bad voice in the entire cast–many of them have extensive experience performing Opera. However my favorite was the young CSU Fresno student Tyson Pyles, who played the Italian boy Fabrizio Naccarelli who falls in love with Clara. He was absolutely incredible! I can imagine all of the girls in the audience, young and old, fall in love with him at each performance.
According to Joel, things are going quite well for StageWorks Fresno and from what I’ve seen I would have to agree. They have three more shows coming up this season–Beauty and the Beast Jr., Ragtime and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and will be announcing their next season in July.
The beautiful score of this show was enhanced by being played by a live orchestra, something not often seen in a Fresno production. “Our harpist, Laura Porter, one of the best in the country glides musically through the show making it quite a visceral experience,” said Joel.
With only five more performances left and tickets going fast, I would recommend getting your tickets right away. Remaining performances are:
Thursday, March 24, 2011, 8:00 p.m.
Friday, March 25, 2011, 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, March 26, 2011, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, March 27, 2011, 2:00 p.m.
At: California ARTS Academy Theatre, Severance
1401 N. Wishon Ave., Fresno, CA 93704
General Admission Seating