|Katie Clarke and Aaron Lazar|
Vacationing in Florence, Italy in 1953, Margaret Johnson (Victoria Clark) is alarmed to see that her daughter, Clara (Katie Clarke), is falling for a handsome young Italian, Fabrizio (Aaron Lazar) and vice versa. Margaret is sure that there is bound to be trouble when Fabrizio's family realizes that Katie, kicked in the head by a horse, has not developed emotionally beyond a child, although she certainly looks like an adult. In spite of this the two seem perfect for each other, if only each one's father doesn't throw a monkey wrench into their plans. The genesis for this musical seems not to have been the 1962 film, but the original novel upon which it was based, as few would probably have thought of adapting the Olivia de Havilland picture into a musical. To say that this version (especially this production) is vastly superior to the film is an understatement for many reasons. First of all Tony-award winning Victoria Clark exhibits much more warmth and humor than de Havilland did in the movie; she's quite wonderful, and Katie Clarke also excels as her daughter. Lazar is perfect as the handsome, intensely passionate Fabrizio, and there's fine work from Chris Sarandon [Fright Night] as his father; Sarah Uriarte Berry as Fabrizio's mother; and Patti Cohenour as his sister-in-law, who enrages Clara when she appears to make a play for Fabrizio (a scene not in the movie); among others. It was decided to have several sequences where everyone speaks only in Italian to add European flavoring for the audience, but this device only serves to distance everyone from the [Italian] characters. Composer Adam Guettel, the grandson of Richard Rodgers, has fashioned a lyrical score which seems a bit blathery at first but emerges more melodious with repeated hearings. Some of the songs are quite memorable: ""Statues and Stories," "The Beauty Is," and "Dividing Day" in act one; and "The Light in the Piazza," "Let's Walk" and "Love to Me" in act two. The score -- sort of ersatz opera at times -- really grows on you, although it must be said that as good as it is there's nothing in it that has the aching beauty and emotional intensity of, say, Rodgers' "Younger Than Springtime," although "The Beauty Is" and especially "Love to Me" are quite lovely. Librettist Craig Lucas was also responsible for the rather horrible The Dying Gaul.
Verdict: A delightful and very moving experience. ***1/2.