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I have one more reason to be thankful this Thanksgiving. It was announced officially the day before Thanksgiving break that Bethel was shifting its biannual musical from Children of Eden to Lucas & Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza. The news was greeted excitedly by those already committed to the musical, and we hope we can spread the excitement.
There were a number of reasons for the change. Children of Eden is written by Stephen Schwartz: the composer of Wicked, Godspell and Pippin, but Children of Eden is one of his lesser known pieces. The directors of Bethel’s show had become enthused pedagogically with Children of Eden because it dealt with Genesis subject matter that the senior religion classes at Bethel were tackling. We’re a liberal arts college, so that sort of crossover is always cool to us.
The fact that the musical was largely unknown though, worked against it as auditions came and went. Not enough people knew the show to become excited about auditioning, and Children of Eden needs a large chorus, as well as a lot of male leads to work well.
I’m someone in love enough with theater that I would have auditioned for any show, and I did. But after auditions, those of us who had auditioned talked with the directors about our concerns about Children of Eden. Partway through that meeting, they let drop that the alternative to Children of Eden was The Light in the Piazza. Several of us yelped, unable to contain the excitement about that show, but not wanting to sound too biased.
But now that it’s been announced, I can be biased. There are some very good reasons why The Light in the Piazza will fit Bethel much better than Children of Eden.
1. The Light in the Piazza has a smaller major cast, but a chorus that participates in major scenes. This fits the two interest levels that Bethel students seem to display towards the theater. Either they are completely committed to the theater and want to go all in with leading roles, or they like the theater but have many other commitments in the college and want to add this as a minimal time commitment. Those who are very committed are each likely to have their own major role, and those who want less of a time commitment can be a part of the chorus.
2. The Light in the Piazza is also a show that has a more classical musical sound. The score breaks from the traditional Broadway popular or rock sound by moving into the territory of Neoromantic classical music and opera, with unexpected harmonic shifts and extended melodic structures, and is more heavily orchestrated than most Broadway scores.
Bethel’s music program is well suited to this style, both in vocal training and in orchestra strengths. Bethel performs an Opera on alternating years, so a musical like Light in the Piazza that appeals to both Opera and musical sensibilities might attract both sets of people. And people speak Italian! Who doesn’t love that!
3. Along with a more classical tone, The Light in the Piazza has a meatier drama to work with. Clara, an American girl, and Fabrizio, an Italian boy, fall in love and their relationship is intensely hopeful compared to the relationships in their families. The production comes into its own in the sweetly bitter maternal regrets and dreams of Margaret Johnson.
I really hope Bethel gets behind the idea of doing The Light in the Piazza. It’s fresh from Broadway where it received raving review and six Tony Awards, among other accolades. I’m sure it will please audience and performers alike.
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