It may be their most demanding production to date, but The Light in the Piazza serves as a testament to Pacific Christian School’s talented and growing musical theatre program.
The 10-year-old Broadway show is the latest presentation by PCS and a stark contrast from their previous productions of Bus Stop, Working and last year’s choreographically exhausting A Chorus Line. Rather, The Light in the Piazza is an emotionally intricate tale that’s pushing the boundaries of your run-of-the-mill high school musical.
Set in 1950s Italy, the show centres around mid-40s Southern belle Margaret Johnson and her naïve 26-year-old daughter Clara, who she has overprotected since a childhood accident where Clara was kicked in the head by a Shetland pony. As a result, Clara’s emotional and mental abilities have developed abnormally, making Margaret apprehensive and autocratic when her daughter falls in love during their trip to Florence.
“I saw the original in New York and completely fell in love with it,” said drama teacher Matthew Howe. “I never thought we would ever consider doing it with a high school group because it’s very sophisticated, but as we moved into this year, I thought we needed to do something extremely character driven and emotionally demanding.
“Piazza has segments that are sung and spoken in Italian, it has a very complex storyline of a mother and daughter working through 26 years of life together, and a very intense confrontation of things.”
It’s been a whirlwind four weeks of rehearsals, making it a much more accelerated schedule than most other schools. The show’s stars – PCS seniors Kayanne Thompson (Margaret) and Lindsay Abbott (Clara) – each performed in A Chorus Line, but agreed their current roles are trickier than any of their previous productions, considering the differences in themselves and their characters.
“The woman who I’m playing is in her 40s and has a daughter and has marital issues and is going through all these things that I have no context for in my own life,” said Thompson. “But that doesn’t mean that you’re unable to grasp the pain of what that person is going through.
“Before the show, we imagined their past and what happened to them to understand her mindset and where she’s coming from.”
Adding to the challenging nature of the show is its classical score, using an orchestra made up of PCS band students and hired musicians, including a professional harpist, to set the tone of the dramatic production. That said, for Abbott, the music aided her in finding another dimension to Clara and tapping into her emotional side.
“What I really like is when you’re comfortable in a song and you can dig deeper into your character,” said Abbott, who has taken voice lessons for eight years. “It’s great to be able to trust your voice and work on your character in it. If you’re able to trust that, then you can do more work to develop your character.”
Howe has faith in the cast, noting they’ve put tremendous work into shaping their characters. He said this year’s show hasn’t had as much blocking as previous years, allowing the actors to do what feels natural during scenes.
“They have the freedom to actually live in the moment, and if the reaction comes at a slightly different time or the energy of it shifts a little bit, it’s because it’s supposed to,” he said.
For Thompson and Abbott, it’s been a busy four weeks, but opening night can’t get there soon enough.
“We know that we can do it, it’s just jitters going into it,” said Thompson. “Excitement jitters, not dread.”
The show runs nightly at the school from June 1 to 4 at 7:30 p.m., with a Saturday matinée at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at the PCS office and can be ordered by phone at 250-479-4532 or in person at 654 Agnes St. For more information, visit pacificchristian.ca.