I consider this by far and away the best show of the decade. I reiterate: The Light in the Piazza is the best show of the new millennium so far. Everything about this show is absolutely perfect. The beautifully touching libretto tells a bittersweet but ultimately inspiring story of a young woman with a mental disability who, while on a trip to Italy, falls in love and ultimately gets married. The focus of the show is her attempts to have as full and meaningful a life as she can, in spite of her differences from the people around her. I admit that this story has a certain personal significance to me, as an Asperger Syndrome sufferer who’s spent his entire life in the same struggle, but I think we can all agree that this is just a beautiful story no matter who you are.
In any case, the greatest thing about the show is its music, easily the finest theater score of the decade. It was written by Adam Guettel, the grandson of Richard Rodgers, the personal protégé of Stephen Sondheim, and, along with Stephen Flaherty, the greatest theater composer of the current generation. His previous two scores for the theater were glorious in their own right, but this ranks as his greatest achievement to date. He does an especially beautiful job at musicalizing the quirky, off-center woman-child Clara, with her moving wanting song “The Beauty Is”, her ravishing love duet with her love interest “Say It Somehow”, and the aria-like outpouring of ecstatic sorrow that is its title-song.
The show makes very effective use of the language barrier as a metaphor for the developing relationship with her beloved Fabrizio, and his songs progress from Italian (the florid aria “Il Mondo Era Vuoto”), to broken English (the tender waltz “Passeggiata”), to the eloquent tenderness of the gentle guitar ballad “Love To Me”. Clara’s mother Margaret, a difficult but ultimately sympathetic character who does everything she can to achieve what’s best for her daughter, is also strongly musicalized in the heartbreaking “Dividing Day”, an almost operatic reprise of “The Beauty Is”, the resigned, quietly wistful “Let’s Walk”, and the show’s shattering finale, “Fable”.
There are also some sharper, harsher numbers to contrast with all this flowing melody, including the biting, incredibly pained “The Joy You Feel” for Fabrizio’s unhappily married sister-in-law, the striking musical scene “Hysteria”, and the dissonant quintet “Aiutami”, with its brilliant philosophical monologue on the nature of love (“without risk, there is no drama; without drama, there is no aiutami; without asking for help, there is no love”). This particular combination of book and score could honestly compete any day with any of the great Broadway classics, and it serves as indisputable proof that Broadway has a lot of life in it yet.