As it was at the overture and shall be at the exit music, bliss without end. Amen.

Theatre Aficionado at Large

Tag: The Light in the Piazza

A New Old World Revisited

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 2.52.16 AM

Late in the second act of The Light in the Piazza, Margaret Johnson tells Signor Naccarelli “There is no survey of the facts like time.” He doesn’t understand what she means, but in the years since the show’s premiere I’ve come to appreciate what she was saying. Piazza opened on Broadway at Lincoln Center Theater on Monday, April 18 2005. I was in the house that night and fell hard and fast for a complex, character-driven musical for grownups. I’ve never had quite so visceral a reaction to any other show before or since.

The musical garnered favorable notices, and went on to win a whopping six Tony Awards (out of 11 nominations), extending its limited engagement four times, and airing as part of Live from Lincoln Center on PBS. Time has proven kind to the show. There have been many regional productions, the cast album is popular among musical theatre fans, and songs from the score are being sung to death in classes and auditions everywhere.

I first took notice of The Light in the Piazza in early 2003, when I saw a news article announcing that Victoria Clark had been cast for the world premiere at Seattle’s Intiman Theatre. Unlike most 19 year olds, I was familiar with the 1962 film adaptation of Elizabeth Spencer’s novella (because of its star Olivia de Havilland). The story involves Margaret Johnson, a wealthy southern matron and her beautiful daughter Clara, who are vacationing in 1950s Florence, Italy. Clara was injured in a childhood accident involving a Shetland pony, leaving her mentally and emotionally stunted. When love blooms between Clara and the handsome Fabrizio, Margaret steps in to try and stop them.

My friend Noah Himmelstein attended one of the early Broadway previews and called me afterward to tell me I had to see it. He told me I should sign up for the LCT student rush program and insisted I avoid any samples of music or preview clips before seeing it. I was staggered when I was able to score a $20 to the show’s opening night (my first).

My professors excused me from all my classes that day, and I decided to spend my afternoon roaming about midtown, before heading to the Beaumont Theatre (another first for me). I people-watched in the lobby as John Lithgow, Helen Hunt and Maggie Gyllenhaal walked by until it was time to settle in to my rear loge seat.

As for Adam Guettel’s score, it was love at first measure. The moment I heard that first harp gliss, I knew deep inside that I was going to love what I was about to hear. My most vivid memories of opening night are the rousing ovation Victoria Clark received for “Dividing Day,” observing the pair next to me clutching each other and weeping as Kelli O’Hara sang the title song, and how the applause would not subside until Adam Guettel, Craig Lucas and Bartlett Sher took a bow. My immediate reaction was to call Noah on my way out of the lobby, telling him it was the greatest musical I’d ever seen. He read me Eric Grode’s rave review from Broadway.com over the phone. When we hung up, I dreamily roamed about the plaza at Lincoln Center (almost bumping into Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer).

To say that the musical consumed my life would be an understatement. It was all I could talk about for the remainder of its run. I talked about the show at length with anyone who would listen (I’m still occasionally apologizing to my closest friends). I even bought the cast album the day before its official release at Colony Records, and it didn’t leave my CD player for five months.

Then came the repeat attending. I was living in New Paltz, NY at the time, going to college and working at the campus library. Sundays were my day off so I would take an early Trailways bus into Manhattan, pick up at a ticket at TKTS and spend my afternoon being transported to 1953 Florence. I was at the final performances of Mark Harelik and Kelli O’Hara, the Live from Lincoln Center telecast and the highly emotional closing performance. In all, I saw the original Broadway production of The Light in the Piazza twelve times. I only wish I had gone more.

Before it was officially announced, I found out that there would be a 10th anniversary reunion concert when one of the cast members posted his regrets that he couldn’t be there. It took some sleuthing, but I was able to figure out that it was indeed happening in April at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. (It’s actually the 11th anniversary, but that’s a minor point). The moment tickets went on sale, I tried to get LincTix but was told “We’re sorry there are no tickets available.” I tried again and got the same message. So I panicked and bought a full-price front row center seat in the loge. No regrets.

Appearing in the concert were original cast members (in alphabetical order) Michael Berresse, Sarah Uriarte Berry, David Bonanno, Victoria Clark, Patti Cohenour, Beau Gravitte, Mark Harelik, Jennifer Hughes, Felicity LaFortune, Matthew Morrison, Kelli O’Hara, Adam Overett, Joseph Siravo, and Diane Sutherland.

On the day of the concert I could hardly contain my excitement. I was doing something I never thought I’d get to do again: to hear this score sung by this cast in the same venue. As people gathered in the lobby I was flooded with so memories: people watching the first nighters by the understudy board, or trying the show’s signature cocktail on my 8th trip (it wasn’t great). I remember browsing through the cast albums at Tower Records or books at Barnes and Noble (both long gone), or just happily roaming the LC campus. Everywhere I looked the night of the concert, I saw friends, including some I had seen the show, the most poignant of all being Noah.

The orchestra, led once again by Ted Sperling, was onstage, centered between upstage pillars of the massive set for The King and I. It was a delightful surprise to hear the complete overture, which was abridged during the show’s preview period (but recorded in its entirety for the cast album).

The actors had chairs and music stands lined up towards the lip of the main stage area and performed the show mostly off-book in the thrust space. The cast was, if anything, better than they were ten years ago; deeper, richer. There was a magical combination of nostalgia and muscle memory. They hit similar marks from the original staging with just a few props. Certain line readings brought familiar laughs. They even went so far as to recreate the breathtaking hat trick that incites the love story.

Victoria Clark, who won a Tony for the original production, is still a tremendous force as Margaret, the guarded, patrician mother. Her beautiful dramatic soprano is the perfect complement for the charming, complex woman she created years ago, and dare I say it, she looks even better now than she did then. The show has inexplicably never played London, and I think it’s time that both Piazza and Ms. Clark made their West End debuts.

Kelli O’Hara was something of a revelation to me, which is a bit surprising considering I saw her in the original production seven times (and I thought her spectacular then). She was freer and funnier; more at ease with making Clara’s pain and confusion more layered and more deeply felt. Her soprano is in peak form and her upper register is flourishing. The evening showed just how much Ms. O’Hara has grown as an artist and a leading lady in the past decade. Her rendition of the title song was a bona fide showstopper, as though everything she had ever done in her entire career had built to that one flawless moment.

Sarah Uriarte Berry sounds better than ever, and was on fire as jaded Franca, giving the best performance I’ve seen her give of her first act solo “The Joy You Feel” (for the record, her high F in “Aiutami” was jaw-dropping). I’d love to see Ms. Berry take on The Bridges of Madison County as soon as possible. It was also great to see stalwart Patti Cohenour back on Broadway, even if only for one night. Her soprano is still strong and supple, and it was quite moving to see her wiping away copious tears during “Love to Me.”

Speaking of tears, emotions ran high throughout the night. At any given moment, you could catch a performer welling up whether it was Kelli onstage, Kelli watching Vicki, Vicki onstage, Vicki watching Kelli, etc. The audience and cast were practically ugly-crying as one by the end of “Fable.”

When the lights came up, the person next to me, a total stranger, handed me a tissue without saying a word. It was a profound experience for me; one of the most personal of my life. I was overwhelmed by memories of a very happy, joyous time in my life and was glad to be able to share it with so many friends, old and new.

‘The Bridges of Madison County’ on Broadway

1-bridges-of-madison-county_650

Recently, I referred to the 1956 musical The Most Happy Fella, Frank Loesser’s lush romantic masterpiece, as a “grown-up musical for grown-ups.” Much of the current Broadway musical theatre is made up of subversive comedies, by-the-number adaptations of movies, and pre-packaged song catalogs. Sincere romantic musical plays tend to be a tougher sell these days. The most recent example I can think of is Giant with its sweeping score by Michael John LaChiusa. However, that show played a limited run off-Broadway at the Public (though it should have been on Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont). Well, a new grown-up musical for grown-ups has come to Broadway and it’s Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman’s beautiful adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County.

Based on Robert James Waller’s best-selling novel, Bridges tells of a four day, once-in-a-lifetime affair between an Italian housewife and a National Geographic photographer in 1965 Iowa. The husband and the kids leave for the state fair, and she is planning to relax with iced tea and a novel. However, fate has something else in store for her when the photographer pulls into her driveway to ask for directions. The novel was excoriated upon its release, but sold millions of copies and became a 1995 film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep.

The bittersweet new musical, now playing at the Schoenfeld Theatre, may be the best incarnation of Waller’s story. Francesca (Kelli O’Hara) married an American soldier after her fiancé died in WWII to escape war-ravaged Naples. Robert (Steven Pasquale) has drifted through life as a roving photographer, never comfortable with commitment or settling down. Truth be told, their romance doesn’t feel like an affair, or for that matter even remotely adulterous. There is no true villain or antagonist; it is circumstance that brings them together and ultimately thwarts the possibility of “happily ever after.” In many ways it is reminiscent of Brief Encounter, with two ordinary people discovering an overwhelming passion that had previously eluded them.

Jason Robert Brown has written one of the most ambitious, openly romantic scores heard on Broadway since Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza. It is, I think, his best work since Parade. He serves double duty as orchestrator and creates a beautiful string-based chamber sound. Marsha Norman’s book complements Brown’s score, establishing rich characters with vivid attention to detail. It is to the credit of both that the events never feel cheap or saccharine, and even the most banal word comes from a place of infinite emotion.

Bartlett Sher’s direction is quite superb; his staging is simple and forthright, yet always tender. The show does tend to meander a bit in the first act, and too much time is spent at the state fair, but by the second act the focus becomes laser-sharp. When Bridges focuses on its central relationship, it reaches its emotional pinnacle, giving the story a depth I didn’t think possible. O’Hara is giving the performance of her career, with one of the most sensitive and vocally supple turns we’ve yet to see from her. Pasquale makes his Broadway musical debut at long last, and it this season’s gift to hear his soaring baritone. O’Hara’s heart-stopping “Almost Real” is a practically an operatic aria while he devastates with the eleven o’clock number “It All Fades Away,” which may well be the best show song of the last ten years, maybe more. Their duets are the sort of dreamy, soaring moments that are musical theatre at its finest. Their duet “Before and After You/One Second and a Million Miles” is a gorgeously realized musical scene, which I think compares with the legendary Bench Scene from Carousel. Their singing is matched the intensity of their onstage chemistry, which was so hot that the woman next to me started fanning herself at intermission.

The supporting cast is mostly excellent. Hunter Foster has the rather thankless role of Francesca’s somewhat oblivious husband, but he humanizes the character. Michael X. Martin and Cass Morgan provide warmly received comic relief as Francesca’s married neighbors. Morgan’s nosy Marge is played mostly in broad strokes throughout the first act, but she displays unexpected depth and surprising empathy in the second. Caitlin Kinnunen and Derek Klena barely register as Francesca’s sparring children, but mostly because the roles are so limited. Whitney Bashor sells her one number beautifully (though I understand she also had a devastating aria which was cut).

There are many things about Bridges that remind me of the aforementioned Piazza. Both shows share Italian sensibilities, its two leading players, director, and scenic and costume designers (Michael Yeargan and Catherine Zuber, respectively). Brown’s finale “Always Better” evokes memories of Guettel’s “Fable.” The leading ladies of both shows even share a surname: Johnson. Piazza opened at Lincoln Center Theatre and ran for 504 performances, which I think surprised many (including the show’s ardent admirers, myself included). Bridges, on the other hand, is a commercial risk and it hasn’t been doing so well.

I’m not sure how long The Bridges of Madison County will last on Broadway, but I feel it is a show that grow in estimation through the years, especially after the original cast album is released. After all, it seems Broadway only gets a new romantic musical once a decade. We grown-ups should savor it while we can.

A Decade in Review

As we approach the end of 2010 as well as the first decade of the 21st century (There’s no such thing as Year 0 in our calendar), I’ve been looking back on the ten years of theatregoing I have had and have compiled a list of some favorite moments:

January 9, 2001 – It was my third Broadway show, but the sublime revival of Kiss Me Kate was the first show in NY that made me feel as though I were ten feet in the air. Stylish, elegant and irrepressibly funny, I went with my high school AP English classes (one section was reading The Taming of the Shrew). Starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie (whom I adored from the original cast recordings of Ragtime), the revival (at the Martin Beck). I can remember every detail. We gathered after school, caught a train and headed right to TKTS (my first time at the booth) then dinner at TGI Fridays. I sat with my favorite English teacher, Fran Schulz, and we just laughed and laughed. We were breathless by intermission and practically needed oxygen by the end of act two. It’s become the standard by which I judge all musical comedy revivals. The London company was preserved for PBS telecast and DVD, but that incarnation doesn’t live up to my memories of this enchanted evening.

July 9, 2002 – Noises Off! I didn’t think I’d see the revival, which had recently won a Tony Award for featured actress Katie Finneran. However, while roaming the local mall on school break with a friend, I saw there was a contest for free tickets to the production. For the hell of it, I just put my name on the piece of paper and tossed it into this vat of thousands of slips. You can imagine my surprise when I got a phone call telling me how to arrange my free tickets. Knowing that the revival’s original cast would be departing, I arranged for the final week of their run. I’m glad I did; it was one of the most hilarious productions I’ve ever seen. It was my first time seeing Patti LuPone, Faith Prince, Richard Easton and T.R. Knight onstage. On top of it, it was also the first time I stage-doored a production and as a result I fell in love with Katie Finneran, who showed me great personal kindness and graciousness in a brief moment. Noises Off was the funniest production I’d seen until The Norman Conquests in 2009.

November 27, 2003 – Barbara Cook Sings Mostly Sondheim. I’ve long been a huge admirer but had never seen her perform live. Then I received word that she’d be in my very town while I was on Thanksgiving break. I had the CD of the 2001 Carnegie Hall concert, which featured Malcolm Gets. However, in Peekskill, it was just Barbara and her three man band. I sat in third row center and just basked in the performance. Her nuance with the lyrics, her warmth and humor, the depth of her feeling as she delved into the lyrics. The pinnacle, though, was hearing Cook sing “Ice Cream” her trademark number from She Loves Me. In the original key, no less. Chalk that one up to musical theatre zen.

May 27, 2004. I’ve talked about this day before, as it remains one of the most important of my life. Without the final performance of Gypsy with Bernadette, I wouldn’t have such marvelous friends like Noah and SarahB (and the extended family as a result). It was my first time at a Broadway closing (I’ve now done 14) and it was the first time I ever went backstage at a Broadway house. It was also the first time I saw Bernadette onstage, and in spite of what you see in print these days, her performance was well received by critics and audiences alike. And she should have won the damn Tony.

April 18, 2005. My first opening night. The Light in the Piazza at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. (To date I have done 7 opening nights). It was the start of an obsession with a superlative musical, which I ended up seeing 12 times throughout its run. There have been many other important theatregoing experiences of my life, but none that have been this magical. Victoria Clark’s performance as Margaret Johnson was one for the ages, and Kelli O’Hara was equally sublime as her daughter. Adam Guettel’s score was one of the best of the decade and it’s a shame we haven’t yet heard anything new from this brilliant composer/lyricist.

December 4, 2007 – August: Osage County opening night at the Imperial. I’d never gotten more dressed up or cared more about my appearance than this particular opening, as I was a guest of Noah. Because of the union strike, the opening had been delayed and by my great good fortune I was allowed to attend. It was a lot of fun standing in the lobby with Sarah, Kari and Sally people watching people as the stars made their entrance into the lobby. But what was even more amusing was the fact that there were celebrities who were there because they just had tickets for that performance – and celebrities who brought celebrity friends as plus-ones. But nothing prepared me for the searing power of Tracy Letts’ play with a dynamite cast including Deanna Dunagan, Amy Morton and Rondi Reed. After the second act, I was in need of air. Saw this three and a half hour play 7 times.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007. My first post-Tony performance. We were in attendance after Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson won Tonys for their brilliant work on Grey Gardens. I had seen and loved the show earlier in its Broadway run, but the audience at this show made it something to behold. The applause at the top of the show threw the actresses off of the pre-recorded track (charmingly saved by Wilson) and Ebersole received the only second act standing ovation I’ve ever seen upon her entrance as Little Edie just before stopping the show with “The Revolutionary Costume for Today.”

March 27, 2008 & April 4, 2008. Two glorious revivals of American musical classics opened: Gypsy at the St. James Theatre, South Pacific at the Vivian Beaumont. I was in attendance for both and just adored both productions. I’m of the school that loved both Bernadette and Patti, so comparisons are a moot point there. However, this second revival was aided considerably by the sublime Tony-winning performances of Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines. Over at Lincoln Center, Bart Sher directed what is probably the best production of a musical I’ve ever seen. Superbly cast, thrillingly sung and acted – and that orchestra of 30. I couldn’t ask for a better week at the theatre (interspersed between the two were favorite flops Juno and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue/A White House Cantata).

May 11, 2008. Two-fold. Brunch at Joe Allen’s and No No Nanette at City Center Encores. Each in itself was an event worth rejoicing, but the combination made it a day for the ages. It was the first gathering of the Bloggers Who Brunch (as I like to call our gatherings). At that point, I had only been blogging for seven months and it was the first time I was aware that there were other people whom I didn’t know that were reading what I had to write! It was the start of many wonderful friendships that I continue to cherish wholeheartedly. The afternoon was spent SarahB in my first visit to the TLC before we took in the fabulous production of Nanette, which is still the best of the best when it comes to the Encores productions I’ve seen – and the only one I think deserved a Broadway transfer. The performances were all top-drawer (esp. Sandy Duncan and Beth Leavel), the choreography was sublime as were the costumes and orchestrations and… well everything. The evening ended at Seppi’s afterward with many of the folks from brunch, all of us smiling and singing “I Want to Be Happy” until the wee hours.

March 15, 2009. I had seen Angela Lansbury make her Broadway return in Terrence McNally’s Deuce opposite Marian Seldes and I would see her sublime portrait of Madame Armfeldt in the revival of A Little Night Music. But there was something extra-special about her Tony-winning performance as Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit. I never would have imagined Lansbury would have such a Broadway renaissance, but am so grateful to have been here to witness it. As Arcati, Lansbury was an utter delight and continued to become even more entertaining as the run progressed. She nailed every laugh, gesture and indignant expression. And watching her improvise her spirit dance around the Condomine living room was worth the price of admission. This opening night was like something out of a 50s movie: tie and tails, elegant evening gowns and a party at Sardi’s. We maintained our own mad-cap party of sorts on the street and gleefully applauded the Liz Ashley as she got into her car (“I’m not in the show!”)

May 16 & July 26, 2009 – The Norman Conquests. I had been out of the country for the birth of my nephew when the announcements and the marquee went up and was a little surprised to see the play’s logo at Circle in the Square upon my return. I confess, I knew very little about Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy of plays. But on a whim, I decided to take in a Saturday marathon of all three. It would become one of the most personally satisfying theatrical experiences of my life. A brilliant ensemble, impeccable direction by Matthew Warchus made these plays the funniest dramas or the saddest comedies I’ve ever seen. I was aching with laughter. I loved it so much, I had to be there for the final marathon which only cemented its place in my estimation. The ensemble was brilliant, but Stephen Mangan’s turn as Norman remains a personal favorite of all time.

September 18, 2009. I only knew of The Royal Family from its place in theatrical lore, but was excited to see the play at Manhattan Theatre Club. Sarah and I attended this early preview and were in awe. Jan Maxwell owned the stage as Julie Cavendish, in a sublime study in comedy. I also just adored Rosemary Harris as the aging matriarch, whose eleven o’clock moment took my breath away both times I saw the show. But more than the production itself, it was the way it made me feel – I loved the Cavendish dynasty and reveled in their love of all things theatre and would have loved to have been a member of the extended family.

December 12, 2010 – The final performance of The Scottsboro Boys. The performance was brilliant, as I knew it would be. However, it was the audience that surprised me this time. Before the show started, the audience gave composer John Kander a spontaneous full-house standing ovation – a gesture I’ve never seen in my ten years of theatregoing. At the curtain call, Kander toasted the late Fred Ebb, librettist David Thompson toasted the real-life Scottsboro Boys and director/choreographer Susan Stroman toasted the entire audience.

Every trip to the theatre is a memory for me, some good and some bad. (The Philanthropist, Bye Bye Birdie, The Ritz, Next Fall… but why dwell on the negative?) So here’s to the next decade and all the wonderful theatre it will bring.

Quote of the Day

“It’s the role of a lifetime. It’s the best written role for a woman over 40 with the possible exception of Mama Rose. Desiree in A Little Night Music is up there too, but Desiree doesn’t carry around the same kind of baggage with all that passive-aggressive Southern charm and complexity. I would say that all three women have spent the majority of their adult lives running away, and come face to face with their destiny, their reason to stop running. All three are terribly vibrant, funny, and flawed beyond belief. That is my favorite thing about them. Their imperfection.”

– Victoria Clark, in an interview with BroadwayWorld, discussing Margaret Johnson of The Light in the Piazza fame

Posted on June 13, 2009 at 1:14 pm.

LCT has a New Resident Director

Congratulations to Bartlett Sher on being named Resident Director of Lincoln Center Theatre! Sher, who won the Tony for his direction of the smash hit revival of South Pacific at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, has become a staple of LCT in recent years starting with his superlative work on the breathtaking original production of The Light in the Piazza and the revival of Awake and Sing! (Not to mention his direction of the Met Opera’s Il Barbiere de Siviglia).

This position requires Sher to direct one production per year for LCT, while he also continues his duties as artistic director at the Intiman Theatre in Chicago.

Posted on October 21, 2008 at 1:04 pm.

Has anyone ever seen a real showstopper?

Terry019 opened up this thread on All That Chat today and I had to share:

“Has anyone ever seen a real literal show-stopper? The only one I’ve seen in many years of going to the theater was the very short-lived “1600 Pennsylvania Ave”. It followed a number performed by Patricia Rutledge where she sung at once as both Lucy Hayes and Julia Grant. She then exited (her scene finished)and the actors assembled for the next scene. The audience however would not stop screaming and applauding. They tried to continue the show but the audience would have none of it. Finally, Ms. Rutledge returned, in a robe since she had obviously changed out of their costume and received the audience’s adulation. It was only then that the show continued. That was a REAL show-stopper. Anyone else have an experience like that?”

As much as I love hearing about my favorite show-stopper, alas I wasn’t alive to see it. In my theatre-going experiences, I have seen numbers stop the show, in varying ways, sometimes that extra burst of applause that keeps the praise going just a little longer than usual to the audience out of their seats going nuts sort of deal. Or sometimes, a great star appears onstage and that in itself is cause for the audience to erupt in an overwhelming display of vocal affection. The first memorable experience with a showstopping moment was the day my life changed forever. That was May 30, 2004 at the Shubert Theatre, where Bernadette Peters was playing her final performance in the Gypsy revival. Sondheim got entrance applause during the overture as he ducked into his seat. The overture got a standing ovation – and that itself should have warned for the Vesuvius to come minutes later. People were anticipating the moment. And there she was, in the back of the house shouting out “Sing out…” I didn’t hear the Louise. I don’t think anyone did. People rose as she walked down the aisle of the theatre, with the same reverence one would give at a commencement or wedding. Except we were loud, and there was no stopping us. They finished the scene and Bernadette had to wait until we were ready to let her go on. And that boys and girls was the first time I saw a show legitimately stopped. There were several other moments that very day, especially the “Turn.” Now, the theatregoing experience remains ranked high on my list of events, but it was because of that show I met Noah, and indirectly how I met Sarah, two of the great theatregoers whom I admire and respect greatly. Let’s face it, if it weren’t for BP, I wouldn’t be typing this blog at this very minute, because Sarah and Noah would never have convinced me to do it. So for that, one must be grateful to the kewpie-diva supreme.

Others that followed, Hugh Jackman’s “Once Before I Go” in The Boy From Oz, “La Cage Aux Folles” and “I Am What I Am” in the revival of La Cage Aux Folles. Brian Stokes Mitchell’s “This Nearly Was Mine” at the Carnegie Hall South Pacific (what you’ve seen on TV and heard on record is cut down considerably from the lengthy ovation he received that night). At the closing performance o The Light in the Piazza, several numbers got extended applause including “Statues and Stories,” “Il Mondo Era Vuoto,” and “Dividing Day” (with an emphasis on the latter). Christine Ebersole’s entrance as Little Edie at the top of Act Two in Grey Gardens brought about an immediate standing ovation until Ebersole’s hands-on-hips pose broke and she covered her mouth from the emotional response she had. When it died down, someone shouted out “We love you” and completely as Little Edie, she countered with heartfelt “Oh – and I love all of you too.” and immediately continued into “The Revolutionary Costume for Today.” Audra’s “Raunchy” at a Saturday matinee of 110 in the Shade brought the proceedings to a screeching halt; “Totally Fucked” at Spring Awakening; and it goes without saying Patti LuPone as Rose last summer at the City Center and on her opening night at the St. James had a couple of showstopping moments, including the “Turn.” Paulo Szot’s “This Nearly Was Mine” on the opening night of South Pacific. Juan Diego Florez’s “Pour mon ame” from La Fille du Regiment; Emily Pulley’s “Duet for One (The First Lady of the Land)” at A White House Cantata. And most recently, Beth Leavel’s “Where-Has-My-Hubby-Gone Blues” at Encores! No, No, Nanette.
The only time I’ve seen that sort of reaction at a play was the opening night of August: Osage County after the second act button. The roaring of approval from the audience continued after the house lights had come up after intermission. I’ve never had that experience at a drama before, and doubt there are many plays that offer a moment of such adrenalized electricity.

What are yours, folks?

"It’s a New Old World…"


On this day three years ago I attended my first-ever Broadway opening night. It was also the night I fell madly in love with a new musical; a feeling that I had never experienced before nor since. The show: The Light in the Piazza.

It was an interesting progression for me. I was familiar with the film adaptation of Elizabeth Spencer’s original novella when it played on TCM a few years before. It starred Olivia de Havilland and Yvette Mimieux, respectively, as the mother and her daughter on vacation in Florence, Italy. George Hamilton was Fabrizio, who came off lecherous rather than romantic – to the point where I was actually disappointed the two got together. Rossano Brazzi was his father. It wasn’t a spectacular film, but it featured a stellar performance from de Havilland and beautiful CinemaScope cinematography (shot on location).

Anyway, as I heard this was being adapted as a stage musical, I was instantly intrigued at the prospect. I’d never really heard Adam Guettel before. I knew about Floyd Collins and that he was Richard Rodgers’ grandson, but that was it. I vaguely followed the musical while it was out of town, my interest piqued because I had recently seen Victoria Clark in performance for the first time in the Broadway production of Urinetown, in which she briefly assumed the role of Penelope Pennywise. Hearing her knock “It’s a Privilege to Pee” out of the ballpark remains one of my favorite discoveries of a talent ever. The song is mostly high belting, but it culminates in an operatic high C. From my vantage point mid mezzanine at the old Henry Miller’s I could hear her acoustic sound. Needless to say, I was very impressed.

When time came for the show to come into New York, I very calmly yet honestly told everyone it was the musical I was looking forward to the most. The out of town reviews were mixed to positive, but it was a work in progress so I expected continued work. Vicki earned raves for her characterization of Margaret Johnson and was supported by Celia Keenan-Bolger as her daughter, initially in Seattle at the Intiman (where Sher is artistic director) and in Chicago at the Goodman.

It was Lincoln Center Theatre who brought the musical to Broadway as part of their 2005 season. Noah went to a preview and called raving about and I knew that we were onto something special here. I followed his lead and joined the student ticketing program on the Lincoln Center website and proceeded to look for my $20 seat. When performing my search I did a double take when I saw they were offering the opening night performance for sale (While roaming through Lincoln Center on the day of the show, I would discovered the opening night performance was on TKTS). Well, I snatched that up immediately. My seat was in the rear of the Loge, but that didn’t matter for that price and the opportunity.

I’d only done the closing of the Bernadette Peters Gypsy prior to this, so my experience with high energy theatrical events was considerably limited. But there in the lobby of the Vivian Beaumont I watched as John Lithgow, Helen Hunt, Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Adam Guettel, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Frank Rich roamed about while Mary Rodgers Guettel stood receiving people like royalty.

The uniqueness of this experience is pretty much beyond the mere use of words. I can draw out all the adjectives I know: resplendent, ethereal, cathartic, et al. to describe what is was like for me. But none can ever do justice to the emotional impact that was delivered. I made fast friends with an aspiring actress and her friend next to me. There was the hat placed downstage center on the bench with a pin spot. The cell phone announcement wonderfully delivered in Italian by Felicity LaFortune. Then down came the house lights. And that overture started. A simple harp gliss with a hint of tension building from other instruments which released into the main “Light” theme. I knew within seconds – and this is a rare occurrence – that I was going to love this new musical. And I did. I immersed myself in the beauty and grace of the musical’s staging and scenography. I am forever a fan of Bartlett Sher. One thing about that opening night performance I will specifically never forget is how “Dividing Day” completely devastated me.

The actors were stellar, such legit singing on Broadway, though I was thrown by the more pop sounding Matthew Morrison as Fabrizio, though admittedly, he grew on me during the run. Kelli O’Hara was the perfect embodiment of the child-like Clara, creating a character of nuance and ambiguity that complemented Clark’s Margaret (her replacement Katie Rose Clarke, embodied the childish aspects of the character as well, but was nowhere near O’Hara on the acting and singing fronts). But the entire performance was centered around Clark’s tour de force as Margaret, giving a devastatingly beautiful performance that ranks among the best I have ever seen in my theatregoing life.

The first act ended with the gorgeous “Say it Somehow” with that coda and gasp-inducing black out. The second act ended with “Fable.” The audience went wild. I mean we went completely nuts – the entire house was on its feet before a single person re-entered for their curtain call. And another theatrical first: after the actors made their exit, our applause continued and continued. In fact grew louder and we would only cease once Messrs. Guettel, Sher and Lucas made a bow. I had a feeling akin to sailing, I think. A natural high. I had been both moved and affected by this work of art which to me was challenging but accessible.

I like to consider 4.18.05 the night I rediscovered my lost romanticism. As I left the Beaumont, I was already on my cell phone to Noah, proclaiming “Oh my God, this is the best new musical I’ve ever seen.” And he proceeded to read me back a rave review from Broadway.com. I strolled by the fountain at Lincoln Center in a daze, almost walking into Mr. & Mrs. Peter Boyle, Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer, who were attending a Dustin Hoffman celebration at Avery Fisher Hall. I watched a rather attractive young couple walk by the fountain, also having emerged from Avery Fisher. The gentleman placed his topcoat over the shoulders of his lover with such tenderness and care that I could and only pause and smile. Truth be told, I’d been more likely to roll my eyes and scoff, but then again, it’s much easier to be a cynic than a romantic, no?

The score was unlike anything I could have anticipated. Orchestrated with as many strings as there are stars in the skies. (I’m a wee bit prone to hyperbole, sue me). All woodwinds save the flute and piccolo, which added just a tinge of melancholy to the score’s sound. And of course there’s that harp, that gorgeous harp around which the entire orchestration is built. I would venture a guess that I’ve listened to this score more times than any other. There were five months where the CD rarely left my player. And the repeat button was on. And repeat listenings/viewings only unraveled more and more depth and skill in the music and lyrics. (I know some people loathed the lyrics, but I admired their dramatic honesty and simplicity). Guettel as a musical composer managed to create a hybrid of the Rodgers & Hammerstein and the Sondheim schools of musical theatre, infused with a neo-classicist stream of consciousness in the flow of the melody.

It was also the night I became an ardent fan and supporter of the Lincoln Center Theatre, a non-profit company that is not afraid to take artistic risks and not afraid to spare any expense when they believe in a work. The show would eventually win six Tony awards – the most of any show that year – including a deserved sweep in the scenographic categories: Lighting, Scenic and Costume Design (the combination of the elements made me feel as though I was actually in Florence). The show was also awarded for its rich orchestrations, score and the coup d’grace: Best Actress in a Musical for Victoria Clark, whose performance in the role will one day be considered legendary. The show may have lost the Best Musical Tony, but it had already won Best Musical of my Heart – sentimental, yes, but I’ve never given that designation to any other show.

The 2004-05 season became a joyous one with four solid shows opening towards the end of the season, three of which were Spamalot, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and the fourth was Piazza, which became a surprise hit for LCT and warranted several extensions past its original June closing date (eventually extending its run by 54 weeks). By the time it closed on June 2, 2006, it had played 504 performances at the Vivian Beaumont. It would shortly thereafter launch a year-long national tour starring Christine Andreas and Elena Shaddow.

For the first time, I was compelled to go back to a Broadway show. Even when I thought of it prior, I had for whatever reason decided not to. But I returned, and returned. By the time of the closing (which, yes, I also attended) I had seen the musical 12 times. Can you believe it? And no, I don’t regret spending the money on it at all. If I could have, I would have gone back many, many more times. At this point, I do have to thank my friends who were so wonderful putting up with my year and four months of complete and total obsession. I wanted everyone to see this show, hear this score and could talk of little else. I took my a good friend to the closing performance who had listened to me harp on about the show for well over a year. He soon learned that I was rather calm in comparison to the woman to his left (who shouted “MATT!” at Matthew Morrison, who was in the audience for the last show, until he turned and gave her a quick wave). The only new musical to open since that I have appreciated nearly as much was Grey Gardens. I only hope it won’t be too long until a new musical captures my undivided attention.

The Light in the Piazza was a rare experience, and one which will forever hold a special place in my mind and soul. April 18th will always be an incredibly poignant and nostalgic date for me.

Here is Vicki Clark as Margaret Johnson performing the incandescent finale, “Fable.”

A place where I can rant and rave about theatre,
theatre history, plus books, film and anything
else that strikes me as entertaining, interesting
or important. Feel free to chime in. If you'd like
me to have a look at your show or have any
interest in advertising, feel free to contact me. Membership
director of the Independent Theater Bloggers Association.

Photo by Kari Geltemeyer

Walking Among My Yesterdays

2016

2/11 - The King and I

2/12 - Manon Lescaut (Met Opera)

2/14 - Cabin in the Sky (Encores!)

2/16 - Maria Stuarda (Met Opera)

2/19 - She Loves Me (first preview)

2/21 - Translations (Oxford Arts Space)

2/22 - The Secret Garden (MCP Concert)

2/28 - Anna Netrebko in Recital (Met Opera)

2/28 - Kate Baldwin & Friends: Welcome to My Party (Sheen Center)

3/9 - She Loves Me

3/11 - Noises Off

3/21 - Sondheimas (54 Below)

4/3 - 1776 (Encores!)

4/4 - The Light in the Piazza (10th Anniversary Reunion Concert)

4/25 - White Rabbit, Red Rabbit

4/28 - Dido and Aeneas (City Center)

5/15 - Do I Hear a Waltz? (City Center Encores!)

5/25 - The Robber Bridegroom

6/3 - The Color Purple

6/8 - Bright Star

6/13 - Lettice and Lovage (Acting Company Benefit)

6/26 - The King and I

7/23 - Shuffle Along

10/24 - Sunday in the Park with George (City Center Encores! Gala)

10/29 - Kelli O'Hara at Carnegie Hall

11/9 - Guillaume Tell (Met Opera)

11/23 - Half a Sixpence (West End)

11/24 - Ragtime (Charing Cross Theatre)

11/25 - She Loves Me (Menier Chocolate Factory)

11/28 - Ragtime (Charing Cross Theatre)

11/29 - She Loves Me (Menier Chocolate Factory)

12/12 - Kiss Me, Kate (Roundabout Gala)

12/14 - In Transit

Walking Among My Yesterdays

2015

1/1 - Beautiful

1/8 - Honeymoon in Vegas

1/12 - A Good Thing Going: The Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince Collaboration (92nd Street Y)

1/15 - On the Town

1/25 - Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Paper Mill Playhouse, opening night)

1/28 - The Merry Widow (Met Opera)

1/30 - The Elephant Man

2/6 - Lady, Be Good! (Encores!)

2/13 - The Screen (Taksu Theatre Company)

2/19 - You Can't Take It With You

2/27 - The Lion

3/1 - John and Jen

3/3 - Craig Ferguson: Hot & Grumpy Tour

3/8 - The Audience (opening night)

3/12 - The King and I (first preview)

3/17 - Hand to God

3/21 - Sondheimas (54 Below)

3/22 - Paint Your Wagon (Encores!)

3/25 - Cabaret

3/26 - The Visit (first preview)

4/1 - Wolf Hall, Part 1

4/1 - Wolf Hall, Part 2

4/8 - Gigi (opening night)

4/9 - Rhiannon Giddens at Town Hall

4/21 - Gypsy (West End)

4/22 - Wicked (West End)

4/22 - The Audience (West End)

4/23 - The Hard Problem (National Theatre)

4/24 - Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (West End)

4/25 - Buyer & Cellar (Menier Chocolate Factory)

4/25 - Matilda (West End)

4/27 - Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)

4/28 - Follies (Royal Albert Hall)

4/28 - Gypsy (West End)

5/10 - Zorba (Encores!)

5/26 - The Visit

6/2 - On the Twentieth Century

6/9 - The King and I

6/14 - The Visit

7/2 - Little Shop of Horrors (Encores!)

9/21 - Hollywood Arms (Merkin Hall Reading)

10/4 - Dames at Sea

10/14 - King Charles III

10/16 - The Pirates of Penzance (Collegiate Chorale)

10/27 - Spring Awakening

11/2 - Kate Baldwin: Sing Pretty and Don't Fall Down (Keen Company Benefit)

11/17 - Songbird

11/25 - Gypsy (West End)

11/28 - Gypsy (West End, closing)

11/30 - The Winter's Tale (West End)

12/1 - Kinky Boots (West End)

Miscellaneous Links

Newsodrome - Theatre News

Blog Directory & Search engine Blogged.com Add to Technorati Favorites

Archives

Kevin on Twitter