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Wednesday, April 12, 2006


The Light in the Piazza, my favorite musical of the 2005 season will air July 2 on PBS as part of the Live From Lincoln Center series. Tony Award winner, Victoria Clark is set to lead the current Broadway cast including Sarah Uriarte Berry, Michael Berresse, Katie Clarke, Patti Cohenour, Beau Gravitte, Aaron Lazar, and Chris Sarandon. The Light in the Piazza is an adaptation of Elizabeth Spencer's novella with score by Tony winner Adam Guettel and book by Craig Lucas about a mother and her mentally challenged daughter on vacation in Italy in 1953, the daughter's romance with a handsome, high-spirited Florentine, and the mother's determined efforts to keep the two apart.

To date, I've yet to see The Light in the Piazza but I fell in love with the show after having heard the duet, Say It Somehow -- one of the most genuinely beautiful love songs I've heard in ages. I wish I had been able to see the show when I was in New York last, but I just ran out of time. While I'm hoping for a chance to see it when I go to New York again this spring, if I cannot, my only hope will be this version airing on PBS. This leads me to pose the question of the value of taped versions of musicals...what do you think?

There is obviously no comparing the quality of live vs. taped as live will trump taped anyday (particularly in musical theatre). However, I do agree in recording a performance for posterity and as a means to expose a show to those people who will likely never have the luxury of attending a live musical. Obviously, there is a huge missing element when watching a taped version of a musical which includes the spirit of the show. Part of the allure of the genre of musical theatre (for me), is the excitement and the energy of seeing & hearing a live performance. When I think of any of the more memorable performances in my life, part of what I enjoyed was the charisma from an individual or collective cast -- Davis Gaines in Phantom of the Opera (with emphasis on the early run of the show in L.A.), Sutton Foster in Little Women, Donna Murphy in The King & I, and for the most part, the 2002 revival cast of Into the Woods. Feeling the energy from an actor on tape is a difficult feat to accomplish -- though rare, it can be done -- Norbert Leo Butz' "Great Big Stuff" on the 2005 Tony Awards is the most recent performance that comes to mind.

There are some shows on tape you watch and then wonder...why? A few years back, I remember seeing Crazy For You on PBS and was thoroughly disappointed. Crazy For You was a musical I had seen many times and in addition to loving the music of Gershwin, I loved the energy of the show particularly in the "Slap That Bass" number. In the PBS version...nothing. I thought it was dead and didn't even give the viewers the impression this was an energetic number. Even worse was when PBS aired Kiss Me Kate. I hate to pan another show I generally like, but I had to turn it off as this taped version not only lacked spunk, but direction as well!

Though there are versions of musicals taped for television that do not work, are there versions that do? Sort of. There are two that immediately come to mind -- unfortunately both are concert versions of shows taped specifically for television -- Live From Lincoln Center Stephen Sondheim's Passion and Les Miserables: The Dream Cast in Concert. Since the Passion concert is a Lincoln Center production, I hope the creative & production team will put forth similar thought and consideration when preparing the television premiere of The Light in the Piazza. The thing to keep in mind (and what seems like an obvious point) is that live theatre and television are two very different genres. Presentation of one format into another requires adaptation and change and allowances must be made. Audiences today are more sophisticated and expect more from what they choose to watch on telelvision -- grab a potential viewer's attention immediately and find a way to maintain that interest. The question is, how to sustain interest from a viewer who has never seen a Broadway show? Do you present a "pan & scan" version of something like The Light in the Piazza and hope they will be intrigued because that's what seems to be the norm with shows like the aforementioned Crazy For You and Kiss Me Kate. Similarly, how do you hold the attention of a viewer who frequents theatrical performances and make a televised version of a show as appealing as watching it live? Here's hoping that the production team of the forthcoming televised version of The Light in the Piazza will create an intimate atmosphere worthy of Florence in the 1950s to do this glorious piece justice.


scmusicals said...

I'll keep this semi-short...simply because I want to get to sleep. ;)

First have to...HAVE TO...see The Light in the Piazza when you go to NYC this time around. It's a beautiful show, and it wouldn't hurt to support Adam Guettel, as well as quality musical theatre that doesn't need to be a mega pop hit. I'm not knocking pop musicals...but there seem to be less and less classical-type musicals nowadays.

So, do I think that there's value to taped versions of musicals? To the musical theatre connoisseur...yes. I would love to see original performances captured on film for posterity's sake. However, to average joe on the street...probably not. To capture the attention of the greater public, they really need to see it in movie format. Wide camera shots of the entire stage keeps the viewer too far away from the action and close-up shots would just freak the casual viewer out -- what with all the stage make-up and exaggerated gestures.

That being said...I'm hoping for a better taped version of Piazza than all the scary Andrew Lloyd Webber junk. I thought Lincoln Center's taping of Contact was pretty there's hope for the Piazza yet!

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