Director, cast anticipate new themes in Overture Series’ ‘Piazza’ in Marietta

(L to R) Leo Thomasian and Carina Crumbly as Fabrizio and Clara in "The Light in the Piazza." (Photo by Jono Davis)

Credit: Photo by Jono Davis

Credit: Photo by Jono Davis

(L to R) Leo Thomasian and Carina Crumbly as Fabrizio and Clara in "The Light in the Piazza." (Photo by Jono Davis)

When Jono Davis, artistic director of the Jennie T. Anderson Theatre Overture Series, was scouting for a production to close the calendar year, he and his team came up with an unorthodox offering. Running Dec. 15-17 at the Cobb County venue will be the Tony award-winning musical “The Light in the Piazza.” It’s by no means a holiday show, but, after a season Davis describes as “dark, moody and stirring,” he and his team felt that a musical about love and family nicely fit the December bill.

Co-presented with Georgia Ensemble Theatre and with music and lyrics by Adam Guettel and a book by Craig Lucas, “The Light in the Piazza” is based on a 1960 novella by Elizabeth Spencer. In the ‘50s, Margaret Johnson, who is from the South and very wealthy, takes her daughter Clara to Florence for the summer. Because of a childhood accident, Clara is developmentally disabled -- and, when the young woman falls for Italian Fabrizio Naccarelli, Margaret is concerned for her future. Debuting on Broadway in 2005, the musical won six Tony Awards, including one for lead actress Victoria Clark as Margaret.

Instead of planning a season by himself, Davis prefers to confer with his colleagues and find out what they’re passionate about. Knowing he wanted to work with his Next to Normal team from 2022 (and the 2023 remount), he asked that show’s director, Amanda Wansa Morgan, and music director Holt McCarley for suggestions. When both lobbied for “The Light in the Piazza,” Davis knew it was meant to be.

Morgan, a professor of musical theater at Kennesaw State University, is a huge fan of the play and has seen several productions, including the original Broadway version. It’s a tough show for many companies to stage, she said, mostly because of the vocal demands, but a concert version with a shorter run can be easier.

Although she adores the music, Morgan thinks the book is slightly flawed and wanted to give the production her own spin. “The theme of the Overture Series is to mount pieces that either we don’t see often -- or we see done in a traditional way, and we want to do it in a different way,” she said. “For me, personally, I wanted to explore the book in a different way that felt contemporary.”

In the versions Morgan has seen, productions have been cast with “the same bodies” and staged traditionally. Here, she has made some tweaks. “We are exclusively focusing more on the love story between Margaret and Clara and less on Fabrizio. While it’s important, the core and the bone marrow of this [story] is Margaret and Clara and how they navigate their relationship.”

In this staging, Margaret and Clara both are played by people of color, as is Roy, Margaret’s husband. “They are a family of Black entrepreneurs who are living in North Carolina and have money,” said Morgan. “They live at a really unique intersection of wealth and color. That’s really interesting to explore. I was interested in seeing how the story played out with human beings who understand what it feels like to be marginalized and want to literally escape to another continent.”

This version also addresses the fact that the action in the musical takes place seven years after the end of World War II, in an access country. “I feel that has not been addressed a lot in the productions I have seen,” said Morgan. “It’s focused on the love story and the beautiful music.”

The ensemble includes a dozen Kennesaw State University students. In all, the musical consists of 20 actors and 14 musicians.

Kandice Arrington plays Margaret, the socialite, mother and wife trying to navigate her way through her own future. “She is trying to figure out what she wants from her own life as well as her daughter’s,” said Arrington. “She gets to know her daughter on this journey -- which she didn’t think she would -- and gets to know herself. It’s such a beautiful journey for the two of them.”

This is Arrington’s first time back on stage since her father got sick in 2019. When he passed away the following year, she stepped away from performing. “There was a pandemic going on, and things were slower. I took some time off to rediscover some parts of me. I went to graduate school and got a new degree. I was grieving and putting my life together again.” Arrington now works full-time as an educator.

It’s the Overture Series’ responsibility to introduce patrons to musicals they should know about, according to Morgan and Davis. Morgan feels that “The Light in the Piazza” is a classic musical with a universal reach.

“This show evokes all the nostalgia we feel during the holiday season -- joy, love but also the conflicting emotions of pain and confusion, obligation and family,” she said. “It has all the themes you want in a show for the holidays.

“We are living in a tough world out there, but, with everything going on, we walk outside and the world is still turning, the leaves are turning and the sun is shining,” she added. “There’s such beauty and joy in the world. The core of this story is that the light in the piazza is a metaphor for internal joy.”

THEATER PREVIEW

“The Light in the Piazza.” Presented by the Jennie T. Anderson Theatre in collaboration with Georgia Ensemble Theatre. Dec. 15-17. Cobb Civic Center, 548 Marietta Parkway S.E., Marietta. $30-$57. 770-528-8490. www.andersontheatre.org


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