After re-watching the original Broadway production of “Light in the Piazza,” Linda Sabo, associate professor of performing arts, was inspired to recreate an overall sense of the theme. Elon University performing arts students put their own twist on the characters but maintain the elements from the original show.

“We wanted to get a feeling of being in Italy and having all this old architecture around,” Sabo said. 

The musical, set in the 1950s, tells the story of Margaret Johnson and her daughter Clara, who travel to Italy for the summer where Clara meets an Italian boy and falls in love. The show is based off a book written by Elizabeth Spencer, adapted by Craig Lucas and scored by Adam Guettel, the grandson of world-renowned composer Richard Rodgers.

The show takes place in Florence, with scenes featuring the Duomo and the Piazza della Signoria, where Clara and her Italian lover, Fabrizo, meet.

Many of the characters are Italian, which posed a problem for student actors , who had to learn the dialect.

Senior Jordan Bollwerk portrays Fabrizio Naccarelli, the 20-year-old Florentine lover. Bollwerk said his character barely speaks English at the beginning, so it is hard for him and Clara to understand each other.

Because of this, it was difficult to learn Italian when rehearsals began.

“The only way to learn it is to just jump in and do it,” Bollwerk said. “The more you practice, the less awkward you feel about it.”

Faculty from Elon’s Italian department were brought in to assist students with the dialect, coaching them in private lessons and teaching the vowels and pronunciations.

Sabo said the students are trained in classic voice and modern pop, and their technique is based in classical singing. Singing in Italian was not new to them because they also learn Italian art songs in their classes.

Though the music is challenging, she knew that her students could rise to the occasion.

“[The show] has all of the elements of classical musical theater, and the music is written in a more complex fashion, as it is semi-operatic,” Sabo said. “Several of the characters only speak and sing in Italian.”

Senior Michaela Vine, who plays Clara Johnson, said “Light in the Piazza” is the hardest show, musically, she has been a part of.

Though Clara is from the United States and doesn’t need the Italian accent, others in the show worked with the dialect coaches to make sure they were learning the proper inflections that an Italian person would use, rather than just someone faking the accent.

“It is important to find that balance between authenticity and clarity,” Vine said. “You can be as authentic as you want to be in Italian, but if the audience cannot understand you, it’s not worth doing.”

One of the challenges Vine has encountered in the show has been understanding her character's actions and motivations. Clara is a 26-year-old woman, but has the mental ability of a 12-year-old. 

Finding that balance between the two has been difficult.

“‘Light in the Piazza’ is about the purest form of love and finding that happiness in your life that Clara finds so easily because of her child like disposition,” Vine said. “That’s what I hope audiences take away from the show.”

According to Bollwerk, “Light in the Piazza” is simpler than other productions he has been a part of, as it is not a typical flashy musical with huge dance numbers with over the top costumes.

“It is a simply told show with very unique and beautiful music,” Bollwerk said. “It has a wide range of music, drawing from old music theater and early Southern folk, which is what makes the show special.”

Auditions for “Light in the Piazza” began in the latter half of fall semester and Sabo was adamant about casting understudies that would be able to perform in at least one show. Instead, the second dress rehearsal will be an understudy cast performance.

When the understudies rehearse, the lead roles take their place in the ensemble.

“I am very proud of our students when they show that generosity to each other,” Sabo said.

The understudy cast is primarily underclassmen, who Sabo said have much younger and lighter voices compared to the upperclassmen leads, who have more developed and mature voices.

“They have risen to the challenge of the complex material, both emotionally and psychologically, and it shows that they can handle it and are ready to go and graduate.”


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