I really have to stop second guessing the talented folks at Theo Ubique.
The group that managed to make Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shabby tabby of a show “Cats” both relevant and watchable once again last season can add another accomplishment to their belts. Their current production of Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel’s vocally-challenging “The Light in the Piazza” manages to be heartfelt and intimate at the same time it is operatically grand.
The company’s artistic director Fred Anzevino and his co-director on the production, Brenda Didier, have once again discovered some amazing talent to cast their show.
Kelli Harrington is relatively unknown in Chicago theater circles, but that could all very well change thanks to her painfully truthfully and emotionally intense portrayal of Margaret, the 1950’s era housewife who embarks with her intellectually-handicapped daughter Clara on an odyssey to find the ruins of her once happy marriage in an Italian village that was the sight of her honeymoon.
As Clara, Rachel Klippel deftly avoids playing up too much of her character’s handicap and instead delivers a captivating portrait of a young girl whose zest for life and willingness to fall blindly into love has you wondering if fully-able people are truly the ones with a handicap.
As Clara’s love interest Fabrizio, Justin Adair brings some emotional vulnerability and sweetness to the role. Like Klippel and Harrington, he is more than capable of singing the demanding score, too.
As Signor Nacarelli, Fabrizio’s gruff, womanizing father, Michael Kingston also manages to find a subtle kindness to the character. Denise Tamburrino, as his wife, nearly brings the house down when her character steps away from speaking Italian to explain what is going on in “Aiutami.” Pavi Proczko turns in a fine comedic performance as Fabrizio’s ne’er-do-well brother Giuseppe. Elizabeth Lanza seems to channel a young Sophie Loren as Giuseppe’s long-suffering and much put upon wife, Franca.
Adam Veness’ set, featuring sun-drenched and weathered beiges, allow the colorful period costumes by Bill Morey to really pop. Music director Jeremy Ramey’s quartet of three strings (including a harp) and piano offer some new-found clarity and intimacy to Adam Guettel’s score. Like a return trip to Italy, you will still find much to discover even if you are familiar with it.
Time and time again, Theo Ubique manages to reinvent and inspire. Quite simply, no other Chicago store front theater deserves to have a larger, national profile than Theo Ubique. To my national Broadway World readers: don’t take my word for it. Fly to Chicago and see this amazing and talented cast in this show.
“The Light in the Piazza” runs through April 29 at the No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood. Tickets, $29-$34. Option $20 three-course meal also available. Call (773) 347-1109 or theo-u.org.