By Zachary Moull
Composer Adam Guettel received the idea to adapt The Light in the Piazza into a stage musical from his mother Mary Rodgers, who was also a composer herself. It’s fitting, then, that the musical he created is a stunning tribute to the complex bond of love and understanding between mothers and children.
While also a love story and a travelogue, the true heart of The Light in the Piazza is the journey of a mother and a daughter. Margaret has brought her daughter Clara on an adventure to see the sights of Italy. But their mother-daughter vacation takes an unexpected turn when Clara falls deeply in love with a young Tuscan man, forcing them to adjust their itinerary and their relationship.
“Clara and Margaret spend a lot of time together and they are very close,” says Anwyn Musico, who plays Clara in Theatre Calgary’s production. “Margaret’s really been an anchor for Clara all her life, always knowing what her daughter needs and how she thinks. When you know someone that well, it creates such an intense and special bond.”
Margaret is very protective of Clara in their everyday life back in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, working ceaselessly to try to make her daughter happy and fulfilled. But the freedom of vacation sparks a shift in their relationship. “It’s a fresh new environment,” says Susan Gilmour, who plays Margaret. “In Italy, they both get infused with positive energy and excitement, and Margaret starts to see things in Clara she’s never seen before.”
The biggest change, of course, comes after Clara meets the handsome Fabrizio. When the love affair blossoms, Margaret and Clara have to renegotiate their bond as Clara seeks more independence. “In my own life, I’m very close to my mother and I just recently got engaged,” says Musico. “And there’s been a transition in our relationship. The dynamic shifts from a child who needs a mother to something more like friends and confidants.”
Actors are often tasked with creating all the nuances of a family relationship in a short rehearsal period. For The Light in the Piazza, Gilmour and Musico had the advantage of familiarity (they played Marilla and Miss Stacy together in a production of Anne of Green Gables last summer) and friendship. “Anwyn’s a lovely young woman,” says Gilmour. “And we truly enjoy working together.”
“Susan is so gracious and so giving,” says Musico. “When I’m onstage, I really do feel like she is my mother and she has my back. I think knowing that someone playing my mother has such a heart of gold helps strengthen that relationship.”
Margaret and Clara’s Italian vacation is no simple journey, but the hard work is worth the effort. “It’s a very deep love, and trust, and understanding,” says Gilmour. “When you have a good relationship with your mother, there’s really no one in your life like her.”