A Soaring, Gorgeous THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA — Review
It’s true that this year’s hottest Pride ticket, with more heavenly visions and celestial voices than any disco, is City Center’s lush revival of The Light in the Piazza. Starring a top-of-her-game Ruthie Ann Miles as a cautious American woman visiting 1950s Florence with her lovelorn, developmentally disabled daughter, played by 19-year-old (!) Anna Zavelson in what might prove to be the biggest theatrical discovery of the decade. They are joined on Clint Ramos and Miguel Urbino’s airy set of colonnades, evocatively lit by David Weiner, that stretch into the painful past and onto the hopeful future, dividing and uniting its passionate inhabitants as they navigate the ruins of ancient love. A serendipitously wind-blown hat invites Italian charmer James D. Gish to enter the travelers’ itinerary, and his fiery sister-in-law Shereen Ahmed, mother Andrea Burns (in yet another Encores! homerun), and a uniformly excellent cast of wanderers and romantics round out their Florentine adventures.
Chay Yew is nimble in his direction, and mines some interesting nuances from the casting of two Asian Americans as the production’s leads — the only thing done differently to Craig Lucas’ lively book and Adam Guettel’s gorgeously soaring music and lyrics is entrust it to music director Rob Berman, and a bravado cast led by Miles, for whom the word “spectacular” could never be enough. Get your tickets while you can—though, if life is just, a Broadway transfer will soon fly our way—and prepare to swoon.
The Light in the Piazza is in performance through June 25, 2023 at New York City Center on West 55th Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.
Writer’s Note: Last week, my capsule review of City Center’s The Light in the Piazza was published; an unequivocal rave that included a line about my belief that “the hubbub about this being ‘reilluminated’ through an AAPI lens is not much more than a clever bit of social justice marketing.” The comment has since taken on a life of its own, so allow me to apologize for any confusion and, most importantly, for any focus taken away from the wonderful artists involved.
While some responses were made in good faith—‘why focus on marketing instead of just the production’s content’—some have misinterpreted this as my saying that the casting of AAPI artists was some sort of publicity stunt. To be absolutely clear: this was never the case. The comment was in reference to a number of publicity materials, some included in the show’s program, that alluded to a grand thematic overhaul of Guettel and Lucas’ musical.
If anyone’s lived experience in some way informed or enriched their engagement with the production, those moments of recognition are why we come to art, and why inclusive casting is so important. But from a purely critical standpoint, I do not believe much was changed. And, ultimately, this is good. We want artists from different backgrounds stepping into beloved roles they never thought themselves previously able to, and for us to see ourselves more clearly reflected in works we hold close. But let us be frank about what is being presented to us, appreciate art for what it is, and keep fighting for more beauty and diversity in art—two things this production provided in spades.