The Light in the Piazza

Rated 4.0

There’s a telling moment in The Light in the Piazza, the touring production of the 2005 Tony-winning musical, involving a sheltered, 20-ish girl from North Carolina on a European tour, circa 1953.

The girl is at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence when she encounters a statue—a nude male torso. At once scandalized and curious by this display of something she’s never seen in a museum back home, she gropes the marble figure, then trots off, grinning. The scene produced a ripple of laughter when Piazza opened its Sacramento run about a week ago.

This reviewer laughed, too, but with a wince. Seven years ago, a group of conservative homeschoolers insisted on putting britches on the anatomically correct statue of Poseidon that stands by the Community Center Theatre’s north door, leading this reviewer to wonder how much has really changed?

We pose the question because Piazza presents a bit of a challenge, not because of nudity (just the statue!), but because the show attempts things that your average musical does not, and deliberately avoids other things that have become standard.

For starters, Piazza is a serious-minded, almost classically inclined musical (if you can imagine such a thing). The luminous sound is built on strings and woodwinds; there’s literally no brass, very rare in this kind of show. And, since the story’s set during Eisenhower’s first term, there’s not a rock riff in the score. But the harpist (!) works overtime.

Also omitted: threatening villains, beatings and bullets, and dancing girls flashing cleavage and legs. Piazza is a serenely domestic show about family relationships. The heat that develops between the young lovers (a blonde Southern beauty and a slender Italian hunk) is tempered by the gentle interventions of the middle-aged parents (wiser, caring and careful), who actually get more stage time.

The women next to me on opening night (holding glasses of champagne, clearly not the first of the evening) split at intermission, perhaps seeking something faster-paced and glittery.

Myself? I wasn’t bowled over, but I honestly enjoyed Piazza, in large part because it took me places that most shows on the Broadway Sacramento series don’t even try to go.