By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
The beloved Tony Award-winning musical “The Light in the Piazza” is running in Chicago and starring four-time Grammy Award winner and Tony Award nominee Renée Fleming. Presented by producers John Berry CBE and Anthony Lilley OBE for Scenario Two and Karl Sydow, this limited holiday engagement of “The Light in the Piazza” is in performances at Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. Tickets start at $35. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit lightinthepiazzathemusical.com
In “The Light in the Piazza,” Margaret Johnson (Fleming) embarks on a fateful trip to Florence with her daughter Clara (Solea Pfeiffer) in the summer of 1953. A gust of wind whisks Clara’s hat into the hands of local dreamer Fabrizio Naccarelli (Rob Houchen) and it’s love at first sight—but Clara isn’t quite what she appears. Soon her mother is faced with a heart-wrenching decision, and they must all confront a secret that’s been kept in the shadows for far too long.
Among the great cast members that include Olivier Award winner Alex Jennings, Pfeiffer most recently performed the role of Eva Peron in New York City Center’s revival of “Evita” and starred as Penny Lane in the musical adaptation of the hit film “Almost Famous” at The Old Globe.
Pfeiffer is 25, her mother is African American, and her father is of European descent. She was born in Zimbabwe when her parents were grad anthropology students doing research and remembers very early on that music was important in her household. “I recall seeing public theater as a very young kid in Mozambique and being blown away by the dancing and the messages they were conveying.”
Pfeiffer has previously expressed that she never thought she would be able to perform the role of Clara, which has historically been cast as a white girl (a lyric in the show says Clara’s skin is ‘like milk’). She told the Crusader that this fact didn’t bother her, and she feels well prepared to seek similar roles. “I think everyone’s path looks so different when it comes to a life in the arts. I’ve worked to try to make my skills match the kind of work I want to do, and in doing so I’ve allowed myself to feel like no door is closed to me,” she said.
Pfeiffer’s first job out of college was Maria in the LA Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel Hollywood Bowl production of the iconic “West Side Story.” She was excited to get this role. “The fact that I got to do this show still blows my mind. The LA Philharmonic was in need of a Maria, and my manager sent over some clips of me singing from the production of ‘Guys and Dolls’ that I had been in a month or so prior at the University of Michigan, where I’d just graduated,” Pfeiffer said. “The Philharmonic and Dudamel watched a few more YouTube videos and decided to trust me with the role! It was one of the best experiences of my life.”
She has also reprised the role in Steven Reineke’s National Symphony Orchestra production at the Kennedy Center. On television, Pfeiffer recurs on “The Good Fight” and appeared in one of the final episodes of “Scandal.”
Pfeiffer talked about the differences between live performances and film. “Singing has always been my first love, and part of the magic of theater is knowing it’s never going to be the same twice. I find it freeing as an artist. Whereas with film it’s one moment, and one take that gets chosen that’s then crystallized forever. I prefer theater right now because that’s where my sights have been set since I was a little girl.”
She offered advice for aspiring actresses. “I think when you know that you are definitely capable of something, don’t ever be the one to take yourself out of the running. Someone could be looking for someone just like you!”
“The Light in the Piazza” is directed by multiple Olivier Award-winning director Daniel Evans and features the Lyric Opera Orchestra under the baton of Kimberly Grigsby, conductor of the original Broadway production. Fleming and rising West End star Rob Houchen “Les Misérables” earned raves for their performances in “The Light in the Piazza” in LA and London.
Scenario Two is a new UK company founded by John Berry CBE and Anthony Lilley OBE, which specializes in commercial theatrical production in London and internationally. It brings together the very best talent from the world of opera and musical theatre with top performers and creatives from other industries such as film, television and theatre. The company is creating exciting new productions of classic musicals and developing new commissions, and thereby aims to attract both existing theatregoers and new audiences in the West End and major theatres around the world. For more information visit www.scenario-two.com.