April 18 is the opening night for the ambitious work, which has already been seen in stagings at both Seattle's Intiman Theatre and, more recently, at Chicago's Goodman Theatre.
The Light in the Piazza is a love story of a young American woman, Clara (Kelli O'Hara), who while on holiday falls for a young Italian man. When the young woman's mother (Victoria Clark) learns of the affair, she opposes it for seemingly unknown reasons. The musical is set in Florence and Rome in the summer of 1953.
The cast of 18 also includes Glenn Seven Allen, David Bonanno, David Burnham, Laura Griffith, Prudence Wright Holmes, Jennifer Hughes, Felicity LaFortune, Catherine LaValle, Michel Moinot and Joseph Siravo.
The creative team includes Ted Sperling (musical direction), Michael Yeargan (sets), Catherine Zuber (costumes) and Christopher Akerlind (lights). Piazza is based on Elizabeth Spencer's 1960 novella. The show marks Craig Lucas' Broadway debut as a musical bookwriter, and Adam Guettel's long-awaiting follow-up to his musical Floyd Collins, which premiered at Playwrights Horizons in 1996 and, though its initial run was short, has only grown in reputation since. Guettel has been a slow worker since that show's debut, producing only the 1998 song cycle Saturn Returns. Nonetheless, he has, in the intervening years, become the subject of many admiring profiles and feature articles, some of which point to him as a leading hope for the future of the musical theatre. Guettel is the son of composer Mary Rodgers and the grandson of Broadway legend Richard Rodgers.
Word of the Piazza project first merged in 1999. At the time, Guettel was collaborating with Alfred Uhry on the venture. At the time, the composer said of the work, "The goal is to really make the audience feel like they're in love or desperately want to be in love...I just want people to feel that feeling for those two hours."
The musical was intended to be workshopped at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and produced at the Goodman Theater in the first few years of the new millennium, as part of Guettel's unique composer-in-residence status with both companies. However, Guettel withdrew himself from the Brena and Lee Freeman Sr. Composer-in-Residence program in April 1999, six months after he accepted, "due to time constraints inherent in the property he is developing," according to a statement from Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Lucas was announced as Guettel's new librettist in early 2002. "Adam [Guettel] asked me to listen to the music, he was thinking of abandoning it," Lucas told Playbill.com in July 2003. After hearing the score, Lucas told his collaborator "it would be tragic to abandon it... We really got along and I'd been wanting to work with him for a long time. I actually met him 22 years ago when he was a kid — and I was a kid... sort of."
"I kinda gave up for a while," Guettel told Playbill.com. "I felt sort of defeated and lost and then I found Craig [Lucas] and things got going again... [He] honors the requirement of writing a book for a musical — by which I mean in service of the music — and also has the effect of being a play with music. It not only serves and amplifies the power of the score, but it also somehow has its own completely legitimate profile and is unlike any other book that I know of in that respect — except for maybe Gypsy or maybe three or four others."
The show received a workshop at the Sundance Institute's 2002 Theatre Laboratory that spring, followed by the Seattle premiere in spring 2003.
The story, by Mississippi-born writer Spencer, who writes about Southerners and sets several of her stories in Italy, was also the basis for a 1962 film starring Olivia de Havilland, Rosano Brazzi, Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton.