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The Light in the Piazza

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The Light in the Piazza, based on Elizabeth Spencer's 1960 novella of the same title, was produced and brought to the silver screen under that selfsame moniker, in 1962. It wasn't until Craig Lucas (book) and Adam Guettel (music and lyrics) teamed up to create a stage musical of Spencer's romantic conceit that Light had ever been considered a possible Broadway contender. But, in 2005, The Light in the Piazza premiered on The Great White Way, where not only did it contend, it actually won six Tony Awards, including a trophy for Best Score.

Now Light is being staged in all its passionate colorfulness at Costa Mesa’s South Coast Repertory Theatre, through February 23. Conscientiously directed by Kent Nicholson, with some cute and creative choreography by Kelly Todd, Dennis Castellano conducting a five-piece orchestra, and towering production values (Neil Patel, scenic design; Lap Chi Chu, lighting design; Michael K. Hooker, sound design; and Leah Piehl, costuming) – this Light shines brightly for devotees of musicals, light opera, and/or love stories.

And how could it not? Coupled with crafty representations of Florence and Rome, and set in the repression of the 1950s, this story of young, cross-cultural love is infectious in its appeal. It is the story of an American mother, Margaret Johnson (a beautifully voiced Patti Cohenour), and her twenty-something daughter, Clara Johnson (a credibly affected portrayal by Erin Mackey), touring the Tuscan landscape and culture, when Clara catches the eye of the handsome young Italian man named Fabrizio Naccarelli ( a wonderfully comedic and endearing characterization by David Burnham).

Of course complications arise when Fabrizio’s family – the father, Signor Naccarelli (a formidable Perry Ojeda); the mother, Signora Naccarelli (Mary Gutzi in an unexpected and enjoyable turn); the brother, Giuseppe Naccarelli (a fetching Christopher Newell); and sister-in-law, Franca Naccarelli (the beautifully intense Melina Kalomas), meets the Johnson women. Moreover, Roy Johnson, Margaret’s state-bound husband and father to Clara (Martin Kildare adding a believable banality to his characterization) and a nameless priest (a stern-appearing John-David Keller), along with a four-member ensemble (Joseph Almohaya, Julie Garnye, Madison Mitchell, and Lewis Pardo), widen perspective and, in the case of the latter, gives us the feeling of a living, breathing population as well as adding an attractive pedestrianism to the proceedings.

What’s more, there are the songs and there are the dance routines, each of which puts the focus on where it ought to be: the skills and craft of these major-league talents. The show’s opener, "Statues and Stories," sung in duet by Margaret and Clara, focuses our attention and introduces us to the characters and to the conflict yet to come. By the time we get to act-one’s closer, "Say it Somehow,"  anticipation builds as to how what is said plays out over the course of the second, and final, act.

After intermission, the “curtain-raiser,” "Aiutami," performed by the entire Naccarelli clan, re-energizes us for what’s to come. But it is in three of the second-act solo performances – the titular "The Light in the Piazza," by Mackey; "Love to Me," by Burnham; and, "Fable," the finale, gracefully fulfilled by Cohenour – that this staging is most luminous. Though the show has the repetitiveness typical of opera (it’s two-and-a-quarter hours in length), and that may try the patience of some audience members, like opera, it is in the extraordinary abilities of these artistic athletes, whose efforts lend the appearance of flawless professionalism, that our appreciation is to be found.

The Light in the Piazza continues at South Coast Rep through February 23. SCR is located at 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Evening performances are Sundays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. Matinees are Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. For reservations, call (714)708-5555. For online ticketing and further information, visit




Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.