THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA | London, Royal Festival Hall

Adam Guettel’s luscious Italian romance, nominated for 11 Tony awards in 2005, has hit the London stage for the first time in a new production with a 40-piece orchestra and Renée Fleming. A recipe for success, one might expect — but as glorious as the writing is, this new production sadly remains a shadow of the original Broadway production.

The good stuff to begin with: Celinde Schoenmaker nails the flighty, frustrated, oversexed sister Franca Naccarelli, masterfully navigating the nuances of the score as it switches between musical theatre and opera; she is really the only member of the cast to achieve this. Rob Houchen imbues 20-year-old tortured lover Fabrizio Naccarelli with perhaps too much youth and naïveté, but has the chops vocally, and really makes the most of Guettel’s hyper-theatrical arias.

Dove Cameron, famous for Disney Channel’s Descendants and having 25 million Instagram followers, captures young American Clara’s wide-eyed innocence and general weirdness. But the casting is bizarre: Guettel wrote the role for a lyric soprano, symbolic of Clara’s hidden maturity. Cameron’s pretty pop vocal seems to completely miss this nuance: are we meant to believe that Fabrizio is really in love with Clara because she acts like a 12-year-old?

But perhaps the most egregious fault is the depiction of 1953 Florence as a city of camp stereotypes in bright colours and questionable accents. No; the most egregious fault is the sound design, completely wasting the talents of the orchestra by bizarrely reducing and colouring the sound to that of a tinny synthesiser. The cast’s grotesque head mics also spoil the look and sound of the piece. This is a production full of some pretty inexplicable choices, which might go some way to explaining the actions of those who left at the interval.

Tickets available from £20 until 5 July 2019.

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