Light in the PIazza will light up your evening with music and romance, at the Willows Mainstage in Concord!

Let’s take a romantic little trip to Florence, Italy, by way of the Willows Mainstage Theater in Walnut Creek and their current dynamic and melodious production of Crain Lucas and Adam Guettel’s “The Light in the Piazza”. This is my first journey back to a local theatre in over a month, waylaid by my recent knee replacement surgery, and I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to see this richly rewarding musical before it closes on March 3rd. If you enjoy the power and rewarding sound of trained operatic voices and being swept away in romantic passion, then “The Light in the Piazza” is the perfect recipe for an evening of entertainment.

Margaret Johnson (Deborah Del Mastro) has returned to Florence in 1953 with her 26 year old daughter, Clara (Rachel Robinson), to revisit and celebrate a period in Margaret’s life 20 years earlier, in which she and her husband, Roy Johnson (Dean Creighton) first found their love. Margaret wants to share with her lovely and naïve daughter the beauty of this ancient Roman city, exploring its history, its art, its culture, and the warmth of its people. Little does she know at this point, that the warmth of its people may soon become an insurmountable problem and at the same time a life changing opportunity.

As Clara joyfully explores and runs about the ancient plazas, its narrow streets and quaint little shops like a joyful child, a playful gust of wind lifts her large wide brimmed hat from her head, catapults it skyward, providing a windward game of “catch me if you can”. Suddenly, as if by fate, the hat is dropped opportunistically right into the hands of a very handsome young Italian man, Fabrizio Naccarelli (Robert Dornaus). As Fabrizio seeks out the hat’s owner, he is suddenly smitten by the beauty and innocence of the young lady, Clara, to whom he has just returned the hat. Their smiles magically engage each other and in their exacerbated madcap verbal maze of broken English and broken Italian straight out of an Italian/English dictionary, they attempt to find a way to communicate with each other, at least enough to provide some little verbal bread crumb clues that will lead them back to each other and future opportunities to get to know the other.

Even though Clara’s mother can see a real depth of passion in the eyes of the young couple, she does not want her daughter to fall in love with a foreigner in another country, as such an international love story could be fraught with many barriers and problems. Fabrizio is undeterred, and he manages to track Clara down on more than one occasion, even with Clara’s mother throwing every obstacle in the young lover’s path, trying desperately to keep them apart. Fabrizio even manages to get his father, Senior Naccarelli (Jonathan Spencer) and his mother, Signora Naccaralli (Teress Byrne) to assist him by befriending the mother, Margaret, and inviting the pair home to meet his family. Even though the pairing initially seems implausible, both families soon realize that perhaps the relationship between the two could be workable after all. Margaret harbors a deep secret about an injury that her daughter sustained as a child, a mental disability that seems to keep her daughter much younger than her actual age. The relationship matures as does the daughter, who suddenly shows signs of individual strength and independence. It is not long until a wedding appears on the horizon but not without unforeseen obstacles.

There are also some underlying subliminal marital problems in both the Johnson and the Naccarelli Family (primarily with the older son, Giuseppi (Matthew Provencal) and his wife, Franca Naccarelli (Vanessa Lucera)), that adds to the complexity of the story.

This beautifully staged musical love story is enriched with a live 4 piece orchestra under the direction of Kim Vetterli and a superlative 12 member cast that adds vibrancy in each and every song with each voice as beautiful as one could possibly envision it might be. Many of the lyrics are in pure Italian or a mixture of broken English and Italian, as many of the characters are fluent only in Italian. Eric Inman directs this production with excellent foresight and skill. There is a new sound system that is much approved over the old sound system as well.

The Broadway version of this show was nominated for 11 Tony and 11 Drama Desk Awards (22 total) and was richly rewarded winning 11 awards altogether. On June 15, 2006, shortly before its closing night, the Broadway show was broadcast on the PBS television series Live from Lincoln Center, and attracted more than two million viewers.

This romantic and heartwarming production continues Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., now through March 3rd. The Willows mainstage theatre is located at 1975 Diamond Boulevard (in the Willows Shopping Center) in Concord. For ticket reservations and more information call (925) 798-1300 and or visit their website at