The Light in the Piazza: A Rough Guide for the M.D. Part 2: Music Directing the Show

July 20, 2014



I don’t imagine you need me to tell you that you must get the original cast recording.

The Lincoln Center production was well filmed for a PBS broadcast. If anyone is listening out there, I’d like to add my voice to the chorus of people asking for that video to be professionally released. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube, but it’s a crime that it isn’t on DVD, and my friends who were fortunate enough to tape the broadcast treasure that footage. (I taped it and then promptly lost the tape)

If you care to do more research, you should read the short story by Elizabeth Spencer. I rather hoped in reading it that I would find new insights into the characters, but it turns out part of the charm in the original story is the economy of the storytelling, which is kind of funny considering how extravagant the musical winds up being in that regard. It is a beautifully told story, and you should be familiar with the original form it took.

I didn’t watch the film before I music directed the show, but it seems to me that without that movie, probably no one would have been interested in the story as a property at all. The materials clearly indicate that the film is one of the sources of the show, and I think some of the ways the screenplay restructured and converted into dialogue what was only sketched out in the story have been retained for the musical. I think the tone of the show is probably more like the book than the movie was.


Margaret Johnson

This is one of the greatest roles for a woman written in the last several decades. The show is actually about her journey, and your production will rely heavily on your Margaret’s ability to convey a maternal care for her child that will come across as both loving and overprotective. In addition, Margaret has a very demanding vocal part, requiring a well grounded chest mix and a strong, free higher register. This actress must also be a very fine intuitive musician; there are some timing issues in the part that are really difficult. We’ll discuss those elements specifically number by number. The accent is also very important, and the dialect must be accurate, but not comical; it’s not meant to be a caricature. Just as every Mamma Rose in Gypsy will be standing in the shadow of Merman, every Margaret will be judged by the very high standard set by Victoria Clark. I think there are other ways of playing the role than Clark did, but you will have to discover them creatively. In short, cast the role very carefully, and be sure you have this caliber performer available before you program this show.

Clara Johnson

This is also a tough role. One of the few truly legit roles of the last decade, it requires a very strong ear and sense of rhythm, an effortless F-A at the top of the staff and above, an ear for dialect, and the ability to convey kind of innocence that could be read two ways: as naivete or mental deficiency. (not an easy task) That ear and musicality, though… You’ll see as you read why it’s very important that you have a top-drawer person in this slot. Some of this stuff is very hard.

Fabrizio Naccarelli

Clearly, this actor should be believable as Italian, should have an ear for the Italian language, should be likeable as an actor, and should have a strong tenor voice and an excellent ear. The ear is particularly important; there are some extremely difficult parts to hear and count in this piece. The actor must also be able to convey a certain innocence himself. The two lovers are both outsiders in their own way; Fabrizio’s father owns a tie shop, and he has no idea how to tie a tie. His brother is a cad, but Fabrizio isn’t a smooth-talking opportunist, he’s a genuine romantic. The audience must be able to believe that he is guileless and genuine.

Signor Naccarelli

Signor is the bridge between the two families; he speaks both languages and acts as go-between for the two worlds. He must have an ear both for Italian and for the Italian dialect, and be attractive and believable as an interest for Margaret. (there should be a little chemistry there) Nacarelli’s music isn’t really that hard, but he does need to be able to get his bearings in some strange accompaniment territory in Let’s Walk, and the Aiutami section is not for the faint of heart.

Signora Naccarelli

Signora is a really important role. Speaks only Italian except for one very important point in the show. Needs to be maternal. Needs to have a very good ear and sense of timing, and have a high C. No, I’m not kidding, although in a pinch, you could get around that requirement.

Giuseppe Naccarelli

Giuseppe sings very little, and speaks no English at all. The part in Aiutami is tricky, like all the others, but not physically difficult to sing. He should be a charming cad who can pick up Italian quickly.

Franca Naccarelli

This type exists, but you may have to dig to find one where your production is. Fiery Italian, one of two Italians who actually speak English in the show. Sings an F above High C, although if you just CAN’T do it, there is a way around that. She needs to have chemistry with your Giuseppe, in that, I-love-you-and-hate-you-passionately kind of way. Mostly sympathetic, but should also be able to be just a little scary.


There’s a little tricky counting and a lot of Latin here. Range is such that any male could do it.


There is very little chorus here, from which come a few tiny parts. I suppose all things being equal, they should be Italian looking and be fine singers. There isn’t really any dancing in the show.


I’m sorry these preliminaries take up so much space, but this show is unlike any other you will music direct, even other Guettel shows.

I found in playing the show that I had trouble being completely in the ‘head’ place and the ‘heart’ place at the same time. Much of the show is very difficult to play, requiring complete concentration. At the same time, the show is also full of emotion, and I think the MD needs to be in that emotional moment too. At the very moments the show requires most your sensitivity to the emotion of the moment, it requires your absolute musical concentration. During tech week, I discovered that if I stood at the keyboard and unlocked my knees and hips as I played, I was able to connect with both poles of the work. Later, when the orchestra came in, I needed to figure out how to maintain that feeling while seated, because standing the whole run wouldn’t have worked for me. You will have to find a way to reconcile the emotion and the intellect as you play. For a concert pianist, (I am not one) this must be what it is like to play a difficult concerto.

There are few dynamic or articulation markings in the vocal part, but there are many clues in the dynamics of the accompaniment which can inform your direction.

I asked if in my production I could be in charge of the Italian coaching. If you have a classical vocal coaching background, you may want to do that yourself, or have someone who understands how Italian works on set for a good amount of time in the rehearsal process. Many people online have carped about the Italian in the original production. I did too, especially Matthew Morrison’s pronunciation of the ‘c’ in luce, which goes against everything I’ve ever been taught about Italian diction. But then I began looking into it a little more deeply and was reminded quickly that there are actually many Italian dialects, and that the Florentine dialect is a little softer on some of those consonants. There are a number of videos on youtube where you can see what I’m talking about: These two girls cracked me up. Check out how this woman says piace with a ‘sh’ sound at the 10 second mark in this little video. And then watch the rest of the video for fun. The Italians love to make fun of their dialects, you can find lots of videos about dialetti Italiani. Anyway, I’ve come to think that Morrison was trying to be accurate to the Florentine dialect, which is slightly different than the Italian we were all taught as Americans singing art songs and arias. Which leads to another dilemma: Do you teach an accurate Florentine dialect that will delight the one actual Italian who knows the difference and comes to your production, or do you teach a more standardized Italian that will be less jarring for the audience members with a passing knowledge of Italian? I opted for the latter. That meant that I needed to wean the actors off the cast recording as soon as possible, so they didn’t internalize the pronunciation we weren’t using.

We had an Italian Night rehearsal, where all the Italians got together and I went over the basics of Italian pronunciation, (available in the prefaces to most books of Italian art song) we talked about the Italian comfortability with the body, and the use of the hands while speaking. We watched some clips of Il Commissario Montalbano to show these in practice. I love that show. The Italian speaker’s use of the hands isn’t a stereotypical waving around; there is a specific and varied vocabulary of gesture that helps underscore the speaker’s point. I also sent them home with some of those ‘learn Italian’ CDs, telling them not to bother trying to learn the meaning of the words, just imitate the speaker as accurately as possible.

Now, just as in Classical singing, it is extremely important to the characterization that every character speaking Italian knows the meaning of every word he or she is speaking. I mean to say, test them on that. What does that word mean? Which words are the most important to the sentence? This seems like a tall order to people who have experience trying to learn a language, but not classical singing. The hard part about learning a language is usually the construction of sentences. Here, all the grammar is done for you. Your job is to know what you are saying.

If you are Music Directing and playing simultaneously, may I suggest a list of spots you should start woodshedding right now?

1) The acrobatic figure from The Light In The Piazza that trips up so many pianists must be carefully practiced. On page 21 and 137, it appears in D. On page 188, it’s in E flat. When you start to play it in E flat, it’ll feel very funny indeed. I’ll share some tips about how to think about it later.

2) Have a look at that passage on page 25 “Transition to Uffizi”. It’s harder than it looks.

3) Especially if you’re not planning to hire a guitarist, please look at American Dancing. It doesn’t play very well on the piano.

4) The opening of The Beauty Is is actually easier than it looks, until you play it on page 167, where the new key of E feels a little odd.

5) The passage on page 53 at the beginning of 5b is a monster. I’ll confess, I don’t think I played it perfectly at any point in the run, and it isn’t cued into the other instruments. If each measure was a single chord, it would be one thing, but there are three per measure. It’s very hard at tempo, and it also comes in several keys. Here in E flat, on page 56 in D, and on page 59 in E. I found that the work I did in one key did not help my performance in another key; it was like they were totally unrelated. Get out your metronome and slowly work that tempo up. Yeah. Look at that.

6) Passeggiata part 2, page 56, the whole page. Not really all that hard to play, kind of hard to think about.

7) Look at the crazy part at measure 46 in Hysteria.

8) Measures 27-28 and 53-55 in Say it Somehow. Not for the faint of heart.

9) It isn’t SO bad, but spend some time in Aiutami until the groove feels solid to you.

10) Not hard to play, but hard to feel: Love to Me, (the whole number)

11) The second half of Fable, particularly page 211.

12) Look at the very last page of the Exit Music. I’m not kidding. You won’t look at it until the night before you open, and then it will come out of nowhere to bite you.

After day 3, my guitarist told me I was slipping a little and that I needed to keep cueing everything. Nobody in the show can afford to rest on yesterday’s performance; I wound up building a pretty extensive pre-show musical prep, running the hardest parts as though they were fight calls.


1. Overture

It’s very important to note that the licensed materials that come when you rent the show do NOT include the overture as it appears in the original cast recording. All the material in that overture exists in various parts of the show, if you wanted to reconstruct it, but they are not in the correct keys everywhere they occur, and are at any rate, not orchestrated here as they are on the C.D. I mention this, because if your director choreographs the overture, you will need to scramble to reconstruct it, and if you do, you’ll probably be violating your licensing agreement. If you need some reference point for the overture that appears here, refer to the Lincoln Center production video that appears on YouTube. Be careful to observe the subtle tempo changes when Clara’s voice comes in. I will discuss the accompanimental figures in the piano when they arise later in the score for their respective numbers. The main melody here, though, is never given a lyric throughout the work. The ‘Ah’ vowel and the various vocalise passages need to be given a framework, I think, for your sake, and for the sense of the passages as they appear in the production. In a purely technical sense, I suspect that since Guettel writes all the musical material before he writes any lyric, passages like this one were probably sung on some neutral syllable before they were given a lyric. But where in Myths and Hymns and in Floyd Collins, the vocalise serves a sort of ecstatic function, in Light in the Piazza, they almost certainly serve as a metaphor for a feeling that goes beyond language. This idea is made explicit in the first act Finale, Say it Somehow. Clara is singing an ecstatic feeling that goes beyond words.

At the end of the overture are several accompaniment figures we will encounter later in the song The Light In The Piazza. They require further discussion, but I’ll save that for the songs where they feature prominently.

2. Statues and Stories (Parts 1 and 2)

This is such a terrific opening number, and immediately throws you into Guettel’s musical world. A tempo marking with a specific mood. (we will see a lot of this) This says, “With an intimate energy”. Try to find that space. The active tenor line in the left hand that colors the tonality of the piece with those G#s, against the G naturals in the bottom of the right hand remind me strongly of the similar function in the chorus of Come To Jesus in Myths and Hymns. The G# acts as a Lydian #4, which is the typical go-to scale alteration for MT composers since The Little Mermaid whenever excitement or exaltation is implied. But this is no “Part of Your World“; Guettel continually reasserts G natural against it, calling its optimism into question. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that the G# represents Clara’s wide eyed excitement and hope, and the G natural is her mother’s more cautious and protective stance. At measures 15 and 16, Clara asserts the G# in the vocal line. Margaret sings the G natural a measure later. Later in the piece, other sharps will be asserted against the tonality, D#, A#, E#, all come into play, but we’re not really modulating into A, E, B, or F#. No, these are just insinuations of brighter possibilities built into the texture of the accompaniment.

As you’re beginning to rehearse the number, make careful note of the pitches at 23 and 24 (“Was there a king, was there a queen?”) and the similar moment at 48 and 49. (“Go on and tell me what they mean…”) Those are tricky pitches, and close enough isn’t good enough. And may I point out that this rhyme takes 25 measures to pay off?

The dynamic indications beginning around measure 34 are important, they underscore this driving, contracting, pulsating build to 41, that immediately drops back again. It should feel like a living, breathing thing. And that odd moving line, which is so key to Guettel’s musical argument, should lead the charge. I say odd, because it’s a chromatically moving parallel 9th, beginning at G and A in 35 and moving up and back down by half steps with the dynamic change. The rest of the piano part is a kind of unchanging B minor chord with an added 11, dipping back to E briefly, before establishing a dominant pedal that will drop us back into G. At that moment (“On a central square…”) we suspect that the whole first 45 measures have been in a kind of dominant waiting for this payoff to the true key of G. (which also happens to have a lydian raised 4th scale degree of C#, canceled by C natural in the right hand) The key change also places the women’s voices in a higher range and creates a joyous release.

How wonderful this next set of details is, and how much it rewards close examination: Margaret says, “You can feel it”, and Clara echoes her, again Margaret says, “You can follow”, and Clara again echoes, Margaret finishes the thought “… the spark”, but Clara does not echo, she bursts out with, “We’re on vacation!”, which will get a laugh of delight out of any audience that isn’t comatose. Then a further following: “From an age to an age…” “in Firenze…” etc. Margaret is telling Clara what to look for in Florence. File those moments away; in the extension, they pays off magnificently. Make a note of the descending pitches of Clara’s line in measure 62, the subtonic VII chord can be hard to hear. This section cadences in D. Perhaps we were in D all along?

Now onto part 2: you may wind up having too much underscore at the beginning here: measures 23 and 24 can be cut, if that’s the case. Note that the verse we began the song with has become underscore, and our mother and daughter begin singing at the arrival of the chorus in G. And here we find our first instance of extension and slight alteration that Guettel employs throughout the show. It is also our first potential ‘wrong exit’

Let’s start with the payoff of the earlier ‘echo’ passage. Who is leading and who following in measure 34 of part 2? They’ve switched: Clara begins, “You can feel it”, and Margaret echoes. Clara sings, “You can follow”, and Margaret FOLLOWS! (microcosm of the show right off the bat) Then an extension, with a deeply satisfying and very subtle touch. Guettel has added two measures, 36-37, that weren’t there the earlier time, and he places a stomach turning low C octave in the left hand that is deeply dissonant against the F# of the melody and the C# that happens on beat 3. The low octave against the prevailing harmony is a time-honored Musical Theatre trope, used most memorably at the conclusion of West Side Story, where it puts the lie to the optimism of “Somewhere“. Here, I puzzled about it, since it immediately gets sunnier in measure 38, until I realized that it occurs right at the moment where MARGARET starts to follow. It must be her moment; it will not be easy for her to do the following. To take it a step further, Clara sings here “We’re on vacation!”, her mother echoes, and then random chorus people are drawn in, pulling the excitement, and the music, if not the words, into Firenze itself. Remember that in this piece, singing without words is a heightened expression beyond language.

And now some technical detail: Note that Margaret and Clara sing “It ignited there…” together the second time, and then Clara starts the next passage, not Margaret. If this way happens the first time, or if the other way happens this second time, you will be in the wrong part of the song. Clarify the difference here early. There is a further extension at measure 55 and 56, which I don’t see as a potential memorization hazard, but which IS an example of Guettel’s masterful technique of extension. Earlier this C major chord acted as a subtonic VII chord, a substitute for the dominant. But now, Guettel pulls the tonality two chords further out of focus before the arrival of the tonic. (which turns out to be D after all. Maybe we haven’t really arrived.) F major and Bb Major in the key of D are yet another abstraction from the home key, and when we do arrive at the D chord, we get just a couple further G sharps to drive that Lydian point home. And one further eye-opening moment in a SEA of incredible details: at the extension, on the word “finally”, the accompaniment foreshadows Clara’s great groove for “The Beauty Is“. To put a finer point on it, the ‘finally’ they’ve both been waiting for is the beauty of love.

More pedestrian concerns: Apply the subito mp to the chorus at 53; I think it’s implied. I took the F off the tenor line at 56, and the A off on the last chord, adding a D to the altos in 57. Why do Clara and Margaret’s lines CROSS at the moment they sing “finally” and then join together for “here”? By now I don’t need to spell it out for you. Buckle your seatbelts, folks. The whole show is like this.

2b.  Margaret Hat Underscore

Again, there are some figures in here that I will go through in greater detail later, but this is the famous hat moment, which will potentially take your entire tech day. Lining up Fabrizio’s entrance requires him to hear the rest of the melody, before his entrance. Starting at 27, the upper stave has that melody which will later appear in the number “The Light In The Piazza”: “…everywhere, it’s everywhere, it’s everything and everywhere…”, and then Fabrizio introduces himself on the line that Clara will ultimately sing his name on in the later number. The melody at 27 differs rhythmically from the version we know later. Could this be what the tune sounded like before the lyric was added? This moment after the hat foreshadows moments that happen later in the show that the two characters don’t themselves sing; Clara will sing Fabrizio’s name in “The Light in The Piazza”, and at the very end of “Fable”, Margaret says “Clara” at this moment in the melody. When Clara reaches that moment in her version of the song, there is no singing in that part of the tune. I believe that in West Side Story, every major tune gets a pre-reprise, where it appears in some other form before it’s proper introduction. In its own way, this is like that; foreshadowing. As Joseph P. Swain writes about West Side in his magisterial The Broadway Musical: A Critical and Musical Survey, “This curious practice of giving the listener advance notice of important melodies to come… can only have a dramatic explanation…the forward direction of such references builds a sense of destiny…”

2c. Margaret Aside 1

Straightforward underscore.

2d. Transition to Uffizi

Marked ‘Sweeping”. Very MGM. You’re going to be playing this figure a lot in the show, and for the most part, it feels pretty natural. Again we find ourselves in territory very like Guettel’s earlier “Come to Jesus” or the very end of “The Riddle Song” from Floyd Collins. Again we also have that sharp 4th scale degree, both before and after the key change. In his other shows, the repeated answering figure in the right hand either comes as a little triplet up and down figure in each beat, or as a repeating figure that plays the bottom of the chord first and then up to the other notes over and over, each time going up. Pretty consistently in this show, the figure goes down one beat and up the next. Funnily enough, after playing this show for a couple of months, my right hand wouldn’t properly play the similar figures in Every Day A Little Death. I kept Guettel-izing them.

2e. Tour Guide

This charming waltz is actually music from Fable re-arranged and disguised. (another pre-reprise) This connection indicates to me that the scene is in a way from Margaret’s point of view. Marked “A Confection”, which is both more specific and more inscrutable than any tempo marking you’re likely to find in another show.

3. The Beauty Is

I often tell this story because it floored me when it happened: Matt Boresi and I were working on an opera, and I had written an aria for a coloratura soprano that had an acrobatic little accompaniment I was proud of. Matt took a trip to New York and saw Piazza. He came back and said, “You know, you’re going to be surprised when you hear this, because some of it sounds like the music you’re working on.” Sure enough, when the recording came out and I had a listen to it, the opening accompaniment for The Beauty Is was strikingly like this passage I had written, even though I had never heard Guettel’s song, and Guettel certainly had never heard mine. I use this as an example of how some ideas are kind of in-the-air, and it isn’t so much plagiarism that pieces sound similar as it is the fact that we are all experiencing the same cultural stimuli, so some things wind up popping up in multiple places. Specifically, I think I had listened to Guettel’s Riddle Song from Floyd Collins so frequently, that I was able to triangulate the idea into something similar to where Guettel was headed next. In turn, I think Guettel had been channeling Copland. The Riddle Song has overtones of Billy the Kid and Rodeo.

The Beauty Is has established itself firmly in the Soprano MT repertoire from day 1, and most theatre pianists have worked out its eccentricities long ago. But if this is your first time in the pool, the main figure has something happening on every single 16th note of the measure, and the hand positions are easy. So if at first you stumble, just slow it down. We have here all the hallmarks of Guettel’s harmonic style, the interior lines moving slightly by half step, blurring the tonality, even as we are firmly, and very functionally in G.

The thing that makes the Ab minor section at the Piu Mosso so inviting and warm is the descending harmony. Pick any line in the piano part and follow it and you’ll see it dropping. In fact, it drops for pages. The accompaniment pattern is one of Guettel’s favorites, a gentle offbeat pattern we’ll see again in Dividing Day and Let’s Walk. In other places, we’ve seen Guettel using chromatic tones to color a harmonically static passage; this passage is actually on the move, and it’s settling into darker and darker tonalities.

In measures 19-20 and 35-36 are tricky spots that many performers have floundered on. These are two different roads leading in two different directions. Be clear from the very first run through which tune is which, or you’ll be very discordant against the accompaniment. Measure 46 may require some practice for the accompanist; despite that E natural in the bass, this winds up quickly becoming an Eb7 arpeggio, which isn’t what you’d expect on first reading. Be sure Clara can feel the entrance on beat 4. This isn’t rubato, she’s in tempo there.

Again we have some masterful extensions at work here; you may not even know you’re hearing them. The passage from measure 44-46 is a left turn from what happened at measure 10-18, and measures 57-71 are an extended coda that totally veer off from what happened from 29-30. The form of this piece is really quite extraordinary. Melodic countours remain, but all the notes change. Similar harmonies drop us off in totally new territories, and repeated sections don’t last the same amount of time or end the same way. Look at the repetition on page 34 of the phrase, “This is wanting something”, using the same melodic contour down a step, then extending it as Sondheim would with a continuation of a pattern just a little further. And then look at the introduction of the octatonic scale at measure 56, used in the same way Jack does in into the woods, “…and you look below and the world you know begins to grow…”, full of expectation and perhaps fear. It’s only 5 notes, but the octatonic scale at 56 is a beautiful and dramatic touch. There’s another octatonic passage in 47 if you’re looking. There are too many details to mention here!

A few musical considerations: Be prepared to run the little motoric counterfigure at the very beginning with the orchestra; it takes a while to line it up right. That ensemble is very important there;  the orchestra is very exposed. The C in the vocal line at measure 59, “I’ve got a feeling” should not be a D flat, (see bassline for the reason you may hear it wrong). Have a plan for how to tackle that vowel, “He‘s just a someone too…” That’s a tough e vowel there, and we don’t want it to sound strangled. On the second “when you realize…” in measure 65, the D flat repeats. This is a change from the contour of the earlier 2 measures. I found the piu mosso a little tricky. Her note is tied over the bar, and you the MD have to assert the downbeat to go on. At the very end, my feeling of the ritard in 69 made it easier for us to play the measure in 4/4 with the last 2 eights changed to quarters. That may work for you too.

Aside from being one of the high-water marks for show songs in this century, this number establishes Clara’s wonder, romanticism, and joy; it’s the first major pillar of the show, supporting everything that happens afterward.

4. Il Mondo Era Vuoto (Parts 1 and 2)

This is Fabrizio’s first big moment, and it’s a doozy. Up until now in the show, Guettel has not modulated much; his effects are largely color and ambiguity within a single key, and the large scale modulations between key that there are function in the old fashioned way, like the modulation from D to G and back in the opening number. Here, Guettel cranks they key up by whole steps for what seems to have been intended as comic effect. As Fabrizio gets more and more excited, the key keeps ratcheting higher and higher. But it doesn’t really play as comedy, it plays as hyper-romanticism, until Signor interrupts him, and there you will get a laugh.

Again we find ourselves in very unstable harmonic territory. The bassline is a stable A flat pedal for much of the first page, but every other degree in the harmony is altered. In fact, all 12 tones appear in the first 4 measures. Again we find ingenious extensions, made more difficult by the fact that this time the lyrics don’t change to help us remember them. Let me lay those alterations out for you; as you’re music directing this, you must make many of these subtle changes explicit; not all of them will be ‘felt’ until they’ve been ‘thought’, if you follow me.

a) Measure 26 sure feels like a second A section (repeating what happened in measure 5), but it quickly overshoots the D flat and abruptly arrives at the chorus (“Clara!”)

b) The modulation into 4a is abrupt and tricky (note that he modulates down, so we have somewhere to go) Guettel has dropped us off after the chorus, at what we might call the bridge. Measure 6 is analogous to measure 49 in part 1, but it doesn’t go to “dormivo”, it skips even more abruptly backward to the chorus “Clara!” This time through, the section has an extension of the “sei tu” phrase. Your actor may have some trouble making sense of the time signatures there; the 5/4 measure followed by a 4/4 measure might be felt as 3+2+2+2. There is another modulation, and yet one further modulation takes us back to the chorus, but only 4 measures of it, because then we’re back to an altered version of the coda from the first half, interrupted briefly, and then concluding with an orchestral flourish that is clearly a cousin to the last few measures of The Beauty Is. The two introductory numbers for these characters are meant to be a matched pair.

The obsession with the name “Clara” is another parallel to “Maria” in West Side Story, where the name also becomes a mantra.

Other musical details requiring attention:

This is a number where a modern musical theatre rock tenor production simply will not do. Scooping up into the notes with a changing vowel position is here totally against the Italian spirit. That doesn’t mean it needs to sound like an opera aria, but let’s put it this way: The music itself does the job of being over-the-top and emotive. Adding any extraneous mannerisms, especially mannerisms associated with modern popular styles works against what the song is already doing. If you have a long Italian line, perhaps one learned from a teacher with a classical background, all the better!  It’s marked ‘With Italian Lyricism.’ Try to find out what that means, as you are able. The dialogue on page 42 has no safeties, so the underscore just has to time out. Fortunately, if the actors aren’t hamming it up too much, it works out. But the actor playing Fabrizio has to have a good idea of what the end of that underscore sounds like so he can know when to land part 4a. Throughout, the piano part has many dynamic changes that are important to building the long-term crescendo Guettel is asking for. Observe, for example, the precipitous decrescendo in measure 17 of part 2, or the crescendo from ff louder into measure 27. In other words, pace yourself and give it some levels. I found it difficult to get the orchestra to feel measures 40 and 41 in 3 out of nowhere. I wound up changing them to 6/8, and head-conducting them in 2.

I hope now you are beginning to see the particular charms of Guettel’s careful construction of this music based on structural alterations. One finds this kind of manipulation of materials in the micro level in Sondheim often,  but rarely do we find the large scale sections re-arranged as deftly as we do here, made all the more impressive because of how difficult it is to manage the seams between these re-ordered and extended passages in the middle of very subtle tonal shifts.

5. American Dancing

This is a delightful moment in the show, if you like, it’s the dress shop from West Side, only for the boys.

It reminds me a bit of “Is That Remarkable?” from Floyd Collins. Guettel taught himself to play the guitar for Floyd Collins, mostly in non-standard tunings, and this fun guitar part is also built around an alternate tuning. A pro guitarist will not need to alter the tuning of the guitar, though; the thing is perfectly playable in a standard tuning. I have to say, this is one place in the show where the lack of a guitar in the reduced orchestration is really felt. The part doesn’t work idiomatically on the piano at all, and the guitar is wonderful. I gave a strong 1 to start the piece off, then added my piano punctuation from the top staff where it was needed. Be sure you’re there when they block the number; there are actually cues in the music to align.

The last 4 measures are bells leading into the next scene. They are derived from the Passeggiata accompaniment. (another pre-reprise)

5a. Margaret Aside 2

This is a pre-reprise from two different numbers. The first two measures are what I’m going to call the ‘wedge motive’ from “The Joy You Feel”. I’ll go into greater detail on that when we get to the number itself. The wedge motive shows up when a character is trying to drive two others apart. The section starting at 3 is the opening motive of “Fable“. I have an interesting connection to make there, but again, you’ll get it later.

5b. Piazzale Michelangelo

Another foreshadowing: the passeggiata theme.

5c. Punctuation

This is kind of like the passeggiata theme upside down in a way. It does need to time out with the dialogue, so keep an eye on it during the scene work.

6 Passegiata (Parts 1-3)

‘Bells and Sunlight’ is the tempo marking we’re given here, another specific and odd marking. There was some interest when the show first came out about the fact that Guettel had so prominently featured a waltz, because it seemed to be a bold move into territory well mapped by his grandfather Richard Rodgers. I can’t resist making a connection here, but I won’t spell it all out, because I’m hoping to write a paper on this topic.

In 1964-1965, Guettel’s grandfather Rodgers, his mentor Stephen Sondheim, and the also legendary Arthur Laurents wrote a musical about Americans in Italy called Do I Hear A Waltz?, presumably completing much of it while Adam Guettel was in utero. If this team had produced West Side with Bernstein, then Gypsy with Styne, Rodgers in the composer position sounds like theatrical heaven, but the collaboration was famously unhappy, and the show did not fare well. Rodgers did not really get along with his collaborators. Sondheim belonged to a newer school of writing that didn’t see things rhythmically as square as he did.

In his fabulous book Finishing The Hat, Sondheim writes: “Unlike Lenny [Bernstein] and even Jule [Styne] who had come from a thirty-two-bar song tradition, Rodgers mistrusted any song whose measures didn’t add up to a multiple of four, or at least two. I would bring him the sketch of a lyric on music paper with a suggested rhythmic notation attached, and he wouldn’t even read it until he had counted the bars, usually by tapping on my sketch with a pencil in authoritarian skepticism; woe betide me if it turned out to be an odd number.”

The title number of that show is, naturally a waltz, but one that has an odd little accent in it, where the rhyme punches the weak bar in a funny way:

Do I hear a waltz?

Oh my dear, don’t you hear a waltz?

The tune has some terrific little harmonic left-turns in it, (Rodgers was no fuddy duddy harmonically) but the phrase lengths are very square. I suspect if Sondheim had set the lyric to music himself, he would have barreled directly into the next phrase with very little pause, but Rodgers gives some extra measures of chunk-chunk after the second line so that the phrase is symmetrical.

I see Guettel’s insertion of a prominent waltz into this romantic score not only as a daring entry into his grandfather’s prime territory, but also as a rejection of his grandfather’s phrasing regularities. Passeggiata is very irregular in phrase length, to an important dramatic end: Fabrizio doesn’t speak English well. If he’s going to be charming, it won’t be on account of his ability to turn a perfect phrase; the suavity of the waltz so deeply imprinted on our cultural memory is here chopped up and served back to us as a jumble of different phrase lengths. As in “Il Mondo”, where Fabrizio drops into an occasional 5/4 meter and truncates the second A to get to the chorus, here he begins a new phrase whenever the mood strikes and modulates up just as freely.

Come with me (2 bars)

Walk with me (2 bars)

Walking (1 bar)

In my city (3 bars)

Una (1 bar)

Passeggiata (3 bars)

You and I (4 bars)

Note that many of these phraselets begin on a weak beat, adding a breathlessness to the proceedings. On the word ‘evening’, Guettel displaces the C up the octave and heads out into new territory again. The triplets and quadruplets in the bridge sing very naturally but count very oddly. Don’t be afraid of them. Note that the modulation from measure 60 to 61 is changed to a quadruplet and extended by one note to pull us up into measure 86. Clever, no? Keep your Fabrizio honest about the difference between measures 100-111 here in part 1 vs. the same passage at the end of part 3, again a wrong turn will be a big mess. If you hire the full orchestra, 6a is something you can conduct, I think. But do look at the passage on page 61, it’s a Stravinsky moment, where the melodic material is sliced and diced and thrown into unexpected places. Spend a lot of time rehearsing pages 61 and 62. They need to feel very improvisatory and free, but they must actually be in strict tempo, except in the 6 measure colla voce passage. The bit at 41 is something we heard in 5c. (is it the crazy descending passeggiata figure inverted?) At that earlier moment, it had happened right next to the dialogue about milk. Here’s where that joke pays off. Yes, I’m telling you the show is so carefully constructed that a few bars of underscore musically connects to the payoff of that scene in the middle of another number.

In part 3, Fabrizio breaks away from the burden of language for the first time in measure 33. Popping up to the G flat in measure 43 is kind of tricky; Morrison floated it, I think.

One other detail: If you need more time in part 1 before measure 26, you’ll find 22 and 23 make a passable repeat safety.

6c. Transition to Tea Scene

Another acrobatic piano underscore along the lines of the Transition to Uffizi, with the insertion of a new figure at 21, which will pay off during the octet. This is another foreshadowing, because the jealousy setup between Franca and Clara pays off over this very music in the Octet.

6d. Che Gorgioso!

It’s just a chord, right? No. This chord is from measure 59 of  “Fable” on the first word of “Fairy tale”, on the moment Clara registers her happiness at Fabrizio’s home.

7. The Joy You Feel

This is a really tough and quite odd number, but the level of interesting detail here is a thing to marvel at. The right hand of the first accompanying figure is in 4. The left is in either 5/8 or 5/4, depending on how you like to think of it. So right off the bat you have two things that are out of kilter. And then what I call the ‘wedge motive’. Wedge Motive

Leave the C off, and you’ll see that the top of the phrase ascends, A flat, B flat, C. The bottom of the phrase descends E natural, E flat, D natural. Like a wedge; the wedge Franca appears to be trying to drive between Fabrizio and Clara. The wedge happens a few more times in the song, notably at measure 42, where it begins on the same f, but telescopes all the way out to a minor ninth, D to D flat. The next place in the show where the wedge will return is in Signora’s English solo in Aiutami, where she takes much longer to telescope out from A down to D flat and up to E flat. (pages 125-126) Immediately after that, on page 128, Giuseppe and Franca sing the wedge motive on Ah in a new harmonic context.

The Joy You Feel is a wild ride musically. On page 71, the vocal line has 11 of the 12 tones, and that’s why it’s important to establish the bassline that holds it all together; I’d play the lowest note on the staff every time you play through the vocal line for the singer. In what is now a very familiar musical turn, the second A moves after 4 measures into similar, but different territory. The section at 19 marked ‘Baroque Innocence’ is a welcome tonal respite, but not for long. The counting from 31 to 36 is tricky at first; you may want to just feel quarter notes and not bother trying to find downbeats. The accompaniment at many places in this number is at direct odds with what the singer is singing. If after some time spent playing melody and bassline, your singer can’t sing the melody accurately a capella, the rest of the accompaniment will only muddy things further. I added the E in the right hand of 37.

Notice the return of the accompaniment figure from Il Mondo under the words “Though truly happy you must beware”. Note that this is the same figure as the earlier wedges, except that the pickup C has been displaced up an octave, just as Fabrizio’s vocal line had done in Passeggiata. I added a crescendo in the last measure when the orchestra arrived, and the double bass added a nice punch. Don’t forget to encourage your clarinet to dig in in measures 40 and 41 too, that’s a cool moment.

7a. Margaret Aside 3

I wish I knew where those first 6 measures came from. Somebody please tell me. The music from 7-17 is straight from “Fable” at the end of the show, and it does its job well here, underscoring Margaret’s increasing concern.

7b. After Tea

I’m pretty sure this would have been easy to cue if I had been conducting instead of playing, but it wound up being difficult to conduct the first measure from the piano. A strong head nod 4 with a glance at the strings on beat 2 to prep 3 will do the trick.

8. Dividing Day

This is simply exquisite. I’ve included a little graphic of the bassline of the first 20 measures. It isn’t a true Schenkerian analysis, but I’ve shown the register transfers and made smaller the notes in the bassline that aren’t relevant. I’ve also simplified the pattern to half notes so that you can see clearly what’s going on. Guettel’s subterranean bass is in full flower here, pulling G minor chromatically downward kind of like a baroque passacaglia bassline, except it isn’t an ostinato. Note these chromatic descents, three times beginning on G, the third being an incredibly long descent from E flat hitting every note except B natural the first time down, and then with an octave displacement continuing the descent, this time hitting every chromatic pitch from that E flat to the F#, at which point the game changes.Dividing Day Bassline

In The Beauty is, this descending harmony felt like a homecoming. Here, I think it does pull the same sorts of strings that the old Passacagglia ground bass or the Chaconne bassline indicated for European cultural memory in the 18th century and earlier. You may remember it from the classic go-to passacaglia music textbook examples, “When I am Laid in Earth” from Purcell’s Dido or the bassline in the Crucifixus in the Bach B Minor Mass. In both cases, the theme was death and burial. I don’t think Guettel expects us to hear this as Baroque. After all, when he wants us to hear Baroque, he asks for it, like he did in the middle of “The Joy You Feel.” I think that when people with experience listening to western tonal music hear that descending chromatic bassline, the psychological implication is one of instability, because the foundations of the chords are no longer solidly diatonic, and one of dread, because the bass isn’t just unstable, it’s continually dropping. This is the work of a master.

The actress singing this will need to think about vocal production. This is the lower of the two extremes for her character, I think chest voice is needed. It seems to me the opening needs to be almost parlando, a quiet resignation. But I think the singer who digs into that chest too much may wind up throwing off the production needed later in the show. Perhaps not, but do keep an ear out for that; This role is a marathon, not a sprint. Let me note in passing that Margaret’s vocal line walks down in tandem much of the time with the bassline or moves up in opposition to it. They are partners in the opening sections. The melody G-A in measures 37-38 and the subsequent A-Bb are different. I don’t recall how Victoria Clark sings this, but I think many women singing this have those notes at the bottom of the range, so there isn’t a distinct difference between those two spots. Make that clear.

On a side note here, there is an absolutely exquisite countermelody in the 5 part orchestration of this for the piano from measure 32 to 43 that I can’t find in the full orchestration. I mean to say, if you play it sensitively, you will weep. I don’t know where it came from, but I don’t think it’s in both orchestrations.

Getting back to the big harmonic story Guettel is telling here, at that new section where the previous analysis stopped, the chord progression feels much more grounded. If you like, measures 32 and 33 are Em7, with one of those Guettel chromaticisims muddying up the 5th, then a Bm7 chord with the same chromatic fuzziness in the bottom of the right hand, on the 7th of the chord. Then a left turn into a fully diminished G chord, which turns to C7, then D/F#, then Bm7/F#. That’s not all that odd, notwithstanding the color notes in the right hand. This harmonic stability (at least for Guettel) reads to the listener like arrival. Her words here are acceptance and resignation.

Guettel returns to his descending bassline, but quickly pulls his trick of truncating the section to get to meatier matters. The vocal line traces a fully diminished chord in 43, which reads as anguish, and the passage from 44-47 harkens back to the contour of the melody at 32. What follows after this A section that has been brutally but poignantly altered is an underscore to… nothing. I believe in the first production she lit a cigarette and thought. In your production, you’ll have to see whether your actress and your theatrical space allow for this kind of moment. It’s a very bold gambit.

When the voice comes in, you’ll discover the telltale Guettel changes here and there, most notably in 71, where Margaret sings an F natural against the F# of the bassline. It’s only a 16th note, but we should try to tune it anyway, no? The melody on 42 is now repeated 3 times, and the tracing of the diminished chord we heard on “Suddenly you’re out of love” is sung here as “Hiding what you couldn’t say…”, then an inserted measure moves us up a minor third to sing it higher for “Was my cheek upon your chest?”, then a devastating coda leads us to the kind of high spare 5th musical theatre uses to signify that a character is totally desolated.

9. Hysteria/Lullaby

You don’t get much time off before your next jump into the deep end of the pool, and Guettel brings out every crazy modernist device to paint this disorienting picture, taking the kinds of things he did in “I Landed on Him” from Floyd Collins and going even further. Perhaps you’ve already noticed that the little figure at the beginning of Hysteria is a Stravinskyized version of The Light In The Piazza, which means it’s a pre-reprise. It’s tricky to get that Clara entrance at measure 9. When I did it, I attached it to the rising 16th note figure right before she comes in. The figure at 13 is a polyrhythm. The left hand is in groups of 3, the right in groups of 4. The accompaniment at 22 is a pre-reprise of Signora’s line “if there are suspicions I encourage them…” in Aiutami and also appears slightly differently in the Octet as “The diving underneath, the diving down…” It’s also parallel major 9ths, which give it that odd flavor.  At 31, you can hear in the accompaniment the repeated phrase, “Clara”, which will be sung by Margaret later. Over that accompaniment, Clara keeps saying her name. She will then sing this melody at 35 that she has already established as a self-comforting nursery rhyme. We will come to discover at the end of the number that this tune is a nursery rhyme Margaret has used to comfort her since childhood, and that Clara is here using it as a mantra. 31-34 is  marked “Unanchored, Twilight Zone”, but I promise you, you must perform it in strict rhythm, and play out those tiny notes to help Clara find her next entrance. I took a slight accel. leading to the 6/4 measure. Measure 44 looks hard, but just play it with the actress a hundred times and you’ll be fine. Use measure 45 to plant the tempo firmly, because you’ll be lucky to get the following 6 measures together with the orchestra. If you are conducting from the piano, you will not have to actually play the part notated on the top staff, but you should take a few moments to actually internalize the rhythm and contour of the thing, to help your orchestra manage it. That wild piano figure is a funhouse mirror version of The Light in The Piazza accompaniment. Clara’s pitch at 51 is very hard to hear. You will need to go over it many times. And now, something you may not have noticed: The passage on page 95 is an odd musical palindrome. It’s the opening melody of Passegiata, in 2 keys. Clara is singing it in G, Fabrizio in E. The music goes forward to measure 60, and then plays each measure forward in reverse order. That’s why it sounds so odd. You can see from the measure numbers that this was done in rehearsal. I have copied my page of the score so you can see what I mean:Hysteria Palindrome

Again, you must assert the meter at 68 so that your group can play this oddball melody with a good sense of ensemble. Also note that the first violin part at 73 and in 74-75 is extremely difficult. It should sound dissonant, but not like a mess. It is possible, just very hard.

For some reason, even though there’s absolutely no tonal center on page 96, Margaret’s entrance isn’t all that hard to hear, especially if you’ve done it a number of times. She needs to sing it in tempo, but totally ignore what’s going on downstairs. The clarinet is playing the melody in another key, the celeste and vibes are playing a tone cluster, and the cello is sliding around portamento from note to note. Eventually the bassoon comes in, playing in yet a third tonality. Margaret needs to ignore all that, and just sing it in C. Measures 88a through 95 are pretty straightforward, and then Margaret introduces a melody which will be the linchpin of her culminating “Fable“. Tellingly, Margaret will begin humming where she would have sung, “…where there’s a man who looks for you.” Margaret can’t admit a man into her fairytale for Clara. Not yet.

9a. Hotel Bar

Very free and open ended scene change music, which foreshadows a passage in “Say it Somehow”

9b. Fabrizio at the Door

Obviously this is from Il Mondo. The crescendo at the end makes the cutoff very effective.

10. Say it Somehow

This is one of the most difficult songs in a very difficult show. It’s where the audience first gets to see the physical attraction of the couple, and it’s the point when they break through their language barrier into that Guettelian third level, where only the ecstatic language of music is necessary. When Guettel is working out a pop-song groove, we see these kinds of patterns in the piano. The athletic pianism goes away, and the accompaniment begins (at least at first) with a simple pop assertion of the beat. We see this in Saturn Returns and Awaiting You from Myths and Hymns (Saturn Returns), parts of Daybreak and the simpler parts of How Glory Goes from Floyd Collins. In each of these cases, Guettel seems to be reaching for simplicity, but he isn’t content to stay there long, and what starts with a harmonically static C major chord with an added 9th for 5 and a half measures quickly starts drifting into exotic territory, B flat minor superimposed over C minor, A flat chords, C flat 9 chords, and floating above an improvisatory vocal line with Guettel’s trademark rhythmic dodginess. Clara’s entrance splits the &2& of the first half of the bar 4 ways. Not exactly Elliot Carter, but  not what you’re used to finding in a showtune. This is what I was referring to in my last post: it looks awful on the page, but it fits in the voice very naturally.

Fabrizio’s verse extends the passage by several measures in a couple of places. Quickly the two are singing in parallel 3rds and 6ths, which is music’s way of saying that these two are of one mind and heart. The “you are good…”s that repeat and are pulled back into weak beats are a repetition of excitement. And now we come to the hardest vocal moment of the show. The passage beginning in measure 27 is hard to hear and hard to sing, you get only sporadic help from the piano, which is so counter-intuitive that if you’re playing it as the MD, it will take much of your attention just to play the notes correctly, and to make matters worse, you need to memorize two versions of this, because the one in measures 53-55 has an extension that is really difficult to keep separated in your mind. The difference begins in 28 and 54 respectively. You need to plan for this issue before you start teaching the number, because if you pound in the first version too hard, it will make the other version harder to keep distinct in the mind. I’m afraid the orchestra will not be helpful. They don’t play the piano part consistently enough to help you on that front, nor does anyone play only the melody all the way through. It’s very exposed, it’s very hard, and it’s where you will either feel very good of very poorly about the kinds of singers you cast in these parts. (I felt good, FYI) In measure 44, you should know that the clarinet part ties over to the next measure. Not knowing that, I rehearsed it with a grand pause before 45 that I needed to clear out. At measures 25 and 51, I think the C on the word “the” in the cast recording is sung as a different pitch. Make note, it’s different than the D flat that comes a beat later. The last 17 measures align with stage action, and your actors may well need to hear the melody, which you will have trouble playing while simultaneously filling in the piano part. I wound up singing the top staff part badly as I played so they could work out their action for that passage.

A theme to follow in this number and elsewhere is the idea of knowing someone. “I feel known”, sings Clara in The Beauty Is. “Look at me!”, Clara says to Fabrizio after Franca has frightened her. “I know that you know me”, the lovers sing to one another here, right before the ascending “Ah”s. In Light in The Piazza, one of the essences of love is to know and to be known, a thing that does not require language, only the presence of the beloved. After the final underscore, the act break gives you a welcome rest before you tackle the equally difficult Act 2.

11. Entr’acte

Easy. Except in 17-22, which you aren’t used to playing in this key. Maybe you don’t want to wait for the day your orchestra comes to practice this. Note: no ritard at the end.

I also love how when Margaret gets nervous, she takes Clara from Florence, the seat of beauty and culture to Rome, the seat of imperial power, amid the ruins of the Empire. Not sure everyone gets that who sees the show.

12. Aiutami

Again, a very difficult number, but by no means impossible. I found the very beginning of the number to time out well when I took my cue from “CLA-RA!”, 3, 4, ka-chun-ka-chun-ka,  and so forth. It helped our Fabrizio land that opening, and it helped me establish tempo. The time signatures here work well for the MD, but some players noted they were thinking of it differently. Honestly, whatever works. The bassline ostinato does help ground things well, but I’ll give you a hint on teaching ALL the parts that fit over that accompaniment from 7-22. When the accompaniment fills out, it obscures the clear harmonic underpinning of the passage, which simply alternates between A minor and B fully diminished 7. Like so:Aiutami example


Teach all the parts from 7-22, from 24-59, from 88-131 over that kind of alternating chord progression. Every part will work well, and will ground itself over the harmonic structure of the piece. Signor Nacarelli’s part at 40 is an octatonic scale until 48, when it turns whole tone. The part at 60 looks hard, but we made short work of it. Work out how you’re going to get into the next section with Signora. Either build it off the end of her line or if you have a good sightline, work out a conductor cue. 63-71 has an octatonic melody over a very West Side Story “Jet Song” accompaniment. Measures 72-73 are diatonic, if odd, and 74-77 are in whole tone scales descending by half step. Budget some time for this, even if your Signora is an excellent musician, as ours was. At 78, Signora has a version of our earlier wedge idea, and it goes against the piano harmony somewhat, so you should learn it without the accompaniment first. It isn’t clearly notated, but in the quasi recitative at 84, put “with-” on 84, “Drama” on 85, “with-” after the downbeat of 86, and the “u” of “Aiutami” on 87, the “With-” after the downbeat of 88, and “help” on 89. You probably would have done that anyway, but it isn’t clear. The next section is hard to put together. For goodness sake, practice playing the wedge theme at 96 before you try to teach it to the singers. And budget some time for your reeds to look at that when you bring your orchestra in. It’s hard. Fabrizio can get his entry at 102 if he hears his earlier melody starting at 96. If you were unable to find a Franca with a high F, you can drop the passage at 108 down the octave. If your Signora doesn’t have that extended top, she can avoid each octave leap on 129 and 130, although I must say, it’s better as written, IF SUNG WELL. After that bit, everyone is singing things they’ve already sung for the most part. At 132, take a cue from the soundtrack for how to carry out that marking at 132: everything goes sharp for 2 measures until it’s just a shriek by the end. Measure 134 is spaced poorly. That big whoosh is only in beat 4. Have a look at it, maybe mark the beats.

13. The Light In The Piazza

The harp figure at the beginning can be a little tricky for the harpist; budget time to rehearse that, or perhaps pull that measure out of context and run it at your orchestra rehearsal. The whole introductory passage is not very intuitive for a pianist, but here are a few tips to get it into shape:

The figure beginning in measure 2 is obviously an arpeggiation of some chords that are in themselves simple. The tricky thing is to roll them down and up in groupings of 6 per beat when the bottom of the chord doesn’t always fall on a strong beat and not every note in the arpeggiation is played both directions. We’re all used to rolling up chords and back down, but these roll down from the strong beats, sometimes from the high A down to the F#, and other times all the way down to the A on the bottom. This leaves the bass note falling in odd spots in the measure. Lock in that top A on each beat, and you’ll be good. Base your initial tempo on the speed you want the vocal line to be in at measure 4. Above all, don’t get bogged down in the detail of the subdivision, focus on the sweep of the passage over the measure in tempo.

Note the indication that the tempo where the vocal comes in should push forward, then pull back once a measure for two measures and then over two measures for the following measures. Also note the melody reaching to a B in measure 5, and to a C# in measure 9.

I can’t be the only person who initially thought of “the” as an upbeat in the title phrase, but it turns out to be the downbeat. It took me a couple of play throughs when I first started looking at this piece years ago to get the feeling of it.

By now every time you see a passage like measures 21 and 22, you should be able to spot it as Guettel. It has both the left hand melody followed by right hand figurations alternating down and up, and then the arpeggiations slipping down and back up through both hands. All this is familiar territory by now, and familiar to pianists who have played this piece. By the time you get to the Piu mosso (“…side I see it, now I see it…”), we take this initial figuration and spread it about as far as it can go. The left hand asserts the pattern in two octaves now, there are a lot of clef changes to attend to, and some big dynamic changes to account for too. This also turns out to be quite difficult to sing, falling in the break of some sopranos, and necessitating clear breath planning. The measures from 51-53 are tricky for everyone involved. I found the best course of action was to explain what’s happening to the actress and the musicians, and then just barrel through and see everyone in measure 54. At the Meno mosso, you’re just a bit slower than before, but in 52, the quadruplet is basically a written-out ritardando, the following measure representing yet a further slowing of the melody’s tempo. Sing that passage while clicking your finger and ignoring the accompaniment and you’ll see what I mean. The trick to it is that the accompaniment does not slow down in measure 52 beyond the slowing that took place at 51. Only at 53 does the tempo slow again for the accompaniment, and there the affect is mitigated slightly by the fact that the subdivision is now septuplets and not sextuplets. How does this work in practice? The accompaniment needs to land strong beats of all 3 measures with the singer, and then they need to ignore one another in 52 and 53, and all will be well in 54. Pianist, don’t slow down in 52. Singer and Violins, count.

This number is dramatically so important, and our actress has to know this so well and feel so comfortable singing it that a real moment can happen. The music director and the musicians have to be there to support her for this pivotal moment in the story, where her love changes everything.  This is the central issue of the music in this show: the eccentric and fabulous harmonies and figures are in the service of naked emotion. Apollo, Dionysus and Eros are hand in hand.

13a. Back to Florence

A further Stravinskian examination of some material we heard in the Hysteria/Lullaby underscore

14-16. Octet Part 1, Clara’s Tirade, Church, Octet Part 2

After thousands of words of embarrassing praise for every aspect of this show, I must confess that a lot of this Latin prosody isn’t to my liking, but the number is, and the prosody of a dead language isn’t something to quibble about in a show so well made. The accents in measures 6 and 7 are the articulation of the correction the priest is trying to make.

Every time you reach the passage “The shock of winter…”,  make clear the importance of the hard “k” sound in just the right place, and choose a good vowel for the “…er” of winter. Take time to count out the 5/4 measure at 26. The subtle differences between the original passage at 22 and its reiteration on 43 may well dash your singers on the rocks. The trouble begins at measure 53, where an extra vocal ornament starts a set of slight differences: Clara and the Priest have a 2 measure Latin interlude now, and then “You appear” comes on a downbeat instead of beat 2. The whole passage has so many offbeats in it that it may drag. Have everyone clap or tap as they sing it to feel that rhythmic pulse they’re playing against. Clara’s passage on page 148-149 is very difficult. Budget time to go over it at great length and then periodically return to it in rehearsal to keep it working.

The Tirade is so much fun! I believe somebody filmed the pit in our version rocking out and posted it somewhere. We were backstage and we got a little carried away. Learn the melody slowly and accurately, and don’t rush. I love how convoluted her melody is most of the time, but then it slips into a simplistic and childlike Do-Re-Mi for places like “He is mine, he’ll always be mine!” The hardest part of the melody is “There’s a way to behave, there’s a nice way to behave, It’s what nice people do and that’s how it should be!” Go SLOW when you teach it, and have the actress tap something or clap through it to feel where the melody lies against the beat. At 43, we have another extension, this time breaking into a triple grouping against the 4/4 for a kind of wild hemiola. Help your singer negotiate the time signature changes, particularly the 5/4 measure, and crescendo like crazy in that last measure. Take time over the whole number to plan breathing with the actress. She has to be in the acting place where she’s totally unhinged, but she needs to be grounded to the needs of the music at the same time. Not an easy task.

Work for a gorgeous choral Ah in the Church scene that follows.

Have a plan before the first rehearsal for the molto rit. in measure 4. Use the breath marks in the melody to asset strong D consonants; build it into the fabric of the music from the beginning. Higher voices are on the lower staff on page 159. Again, have a plan for the molto rit in 19, and help them feel the pulse of the orchestra in 20, so they can get the sixteenths together. Have a few of your lighter voiced men go up to that high B. I found the end of that passage to be a little funny under the scene. Check in with your director. The music seems to play against what’s happening a little, but maybe that’s what’s intended.

16a. Something is wrong

In the full orchestration this is a clarinet. In the reduced orch, it’s a cello. Both are beautiful.

17. The Beauty Is (Reprise)

This beautiful little monologue almost doesn’t qualify as a reprise, it bears so little resemblance to the original. The opening melody is not as hard as it looks, but may require some TLC. Note that the accompaniment figure in measure 5 is an altered version of the music that accompanies “I’m just a someone in an old museum” in the original “Beauty Is“. The piano conductor score doesn’t make very clear when the piano doesn’t need to play, so here as elsewhere, it pays to go through with the full score and mark yourself tacet here and there. How lovely these reaching phrases are, the first in measure 8, the reach of an octave into a dissonant major 7th against the bass, then in 17 and 18, each reaching phrase lower and further from the mark than the one before. “I know, no I don’t know.” connect with some of Margaret’s earlier lines, and also fit into the theme of knowing and being known. The countermelodies in 25 and 26 will help your Margaret find her entrance in 27. The passage at 31 deserves piano attention; it is not the same as the last time we heard it. Another reaching phrase at 34 doesn’t arc, but keeps going up right into the singer’s break. Margaret sings the name “Clara” at only 3 places in the show: once in the lullaby to calm her with a nursery rhyme after her hysteria. At that point, their roles as mother and daughter have regressed, and Clara is the infant. Here, the second time, it is the anguished cry of the mother who sees she can’t save her, or go back in time to fix the past. The third time, in the Fable, it will be as she realizes she will need to free her daughter to love. After the hidden rhyme “fingers crossed” and “little lost”, there are no more regular rhymes, and as the number comes to a close, we have only identities, “away” and “away”, then three repetitions of “the beauty is”, with the turning point of her character arc, “I know what I have to do”, at which point the music barrels headlong into the scene change.

17A. Transition to Tie Shop

Very like 13a with a similar function.

18. Let’s Walk

I’ll confess that until I music directed the show, I didn’t care much for this number, but that’s because it’s a theatrical moment, perfect for the story arc, and relying on the chemistry and acting of the two singers in real space. The by-now-familiar Guettellian offbeat pulsing rhythm, the chromatic bassline are all in play here, but this time in the introduction, the bassline is moving back and forth tracing a half step like two feet walking in place, until the singers enter and it finally moves. The introductory chords are not so different from the main two chords we heard in Aiutami, only this time in the major and in a symmetrical rhythm. For me, establishing the tempo was a bit of a trick. Reliable groove is an apt marking: too slow, and the number drags painfully. Too fast, and the words jumble. I found that basing my tempo on the ideal speed for “I look at him and that was me…” helped me find the sweet spot. I also use Michael Jackson songs to remember tempi, (a subject for another post) and the tempo for “They Don’t Really Care About Us” was just about right.

The little verses sung by Signor and Margaret are straightforward, and the chorus, “But what do I know…” bears some resemblance motivically with the “The shock of winter” melody in the Octet, with its arching phrases and off-the beat placement. Like that other melody, it also has a tendency to drag. Keep an ear out for that. Also note the motif of knowing and being known, and the melodies on “Ah”. They echo one another at the beginning, then sing in unison at the end, with the telltale phrase extensions leading us to a very chromatic melody “No one knows, we only guess…”, which draws a number of threads together in one deft stroke. The very end of this number varies slightly in the reduced orchestration from the score I was using. You may want to look through your pit materials to check that out.

18A. Post Promenade

Same as 2e

18B. Clara’s Interlude

There is no fermata in measure 2, and the section beginning in measure 3 is in an unfamiliar key. An interesting detail I noticed is that in measures 7-9 there is a melody that differs from the “everywhere, it’s everywhere” passage that normally belongs over this accompaniment, but in this form it sounds a lot like the melody from Say it Somehow, “Ah, we’ll play a game, you trace it on my skin”, or more to the point, what happens on the last page of that number. Either this is an earlier form of the Light In The Piazza theme, or the other theme is being employed here to tie Light in The Piazza and Say it Somehow, leading up to Clara’s wordless burst of emotion. The section at 15 caught us all by surprise. It’s so simple, and so beautiful, and if you want the scene to last longer, there are plenty of ways to repeat that allow for that.

19. Love To Me

Um, watch this. Again we find ourselves in a deeply emotional moment where we also have to think. The meter can be conducted in 4, with a 3+2+2+2 feel. There are passages like this in The Call in Floyd Collins, and Build A Bridge from Saturn Returns among other places, but here Guettel seems to be looking for a kind of simplicity of groove, as though the guitarist is just adding a kind of lift on the first beat. Having said that, I found that for a while, I had to keep checking in to make sure I wasn’t putting it into 4. I also played it for a while much too slow, so it took me a little time to get the thing into my bones. Note the very chromatic moving interior lines and bassline. Noe also the familiar “Oh” passage. The closer we get to the end of the show, the more of these there seem to be! Note further, “You’re not alone!”, which pays off Clara’s “I’ve hardly met a single soul, but I am not alone…”, and “This is how I know”, yet another connection to the knowing/known theme. Depending on your Fabrizio, some of this may fall into a weird place in the voice. Floating some of this will work for some singers, others may need to access a chest mix. But whatever you do, work to keep it intimate. Showboating is wrong here.

19A. Wedding

The dynamics in the opening are important; try to keep it fluid, just as you should have done in the overture. Fable really should begin in measure 9 of this number.

20. Fable

So many people have been deeply moved performing and watching this number. If you’ve gotten this far in the article, you probably already know this scene is one of the glories of American Musical Theatre, a tour-de-force acting and singing moment, which needs to be paced and grounded over 15 pages of breathtaking beauty. I’d like to draw one last connection with Sondheim, to bring it full circle. This is the opening of Fable, followed by a familiar passage from Into The Woods:

Into The Woods Example 2

Fable ExampleIt isn’t the same chord, of course, but the insistent icy quarter notes have a strong family resemblance. Sondheim’s is the brutal moment when the witch lays the worst mother-guilt trip since Gypsy on Rapunzel and then clips her wings by cutting her hair. The other is the starting point for a number that will show us another mother’s journey to accepting the necessity of risk to finding happiness.


As long as that quarter note figure is still active, Margaret is in control of her expression. It’s a very uptight groove, and she breaks out for 2 measures: 11 and 12. When measure 22 breaks through, the icy theme is gone for good, but there is still much more ground to cover, so those dynamic changes are crucial to building layers that make sense. The crescendos will happen on their own. Unless you have a heart of stone, you’ll build. What counts most are the drops down to piano. There are 9 of those drops between measures 21 and 92, the climax of the piece. In its own way, this number is doing over 8 measures what the overture did over 1, an added richness of sonority, then a dip back. It also grounds Margaret’s epiphany and makes it feel as though the realization is coming over her in waves, not as a crystalline moment. Vocally, there are placement decisions to be made from 38 to the end that may be above your pay grade. We are again pacing ourselves to the bottom of 209, as the known/being known theme reaches its apogee: “If you find in the world, in the wide, wide world, that someone sees, that someone knows you, Love!” Don’t give it all up on the word “No” on 203, and be careful to manage the chest-head mix up through that passaggio or things will get screamy right at the pivotal moment. I don’t need to tell you how important breath management will be here as well. Managing the pit may require some finesse here, especially toward the end, where the pulse may be hard to get across at the piano. I kept thinking some of that cross hand business on 211 would be covered in the pit, but we are not so lucky. You will need to play those 2 octave cross hand jumps yourself. There are some other dynamic terraces to negotiate after Margaret has completed her big moment, and I wound up copying page 212 and sticking it to the side, because that page turn is a dog. Take your time at the end, and enjoy that very satisfying C# major chord.

21. Bows

This is music you have played before.

22. Exit Music

Everything makes sense here until the last page, which has a LOT of cross hand work that may be a pain for you. Look at it early and often during your rehearsal process, don’t leave it to the end.


There are two orchestrations available for this show, one with 11 pieces and one with 5. Normally, I love it when a score has a reduced orchestration, because everything is covered, and if you can’t afford all the books, you still have everything covered. But I can’t imagine this show without a guitar or a reed, and R&H will not let you mix and match. (I asked) You should also know that the guitar book in the full scoring has some cymbal cues in it, which initially worried my guitarist, but then he really enjoyed himself! All the double reed cues in the reed book are cued into the clarinet, just in case.

Don’t mess around. These books are HARD. This is not a show to try somebody out on; only hire the best for this gig. The harp book caused one pro harpist I used to grumble, but it is totally playable. There are some very tricky things in the strings, which my players were very excited to play. If you do get the smaller orchestration, it’s even more imperative that you hire pros; there are arco melodic double bass lines, and very exposed solo work. I scheduled an extra rehearsal with the orchestra than I normally do, and I’m glad I did.

Normally I do a hire this if you have only this amount of money section, but I can’t really do it here. The most important players are the pian0, the harp, the bass, and the guitar. (to my way of thinking) Then the strings and then the reeds. But the orchestration is so good, it’s a shame to lose players.


Music directing Light in the Piazza was one of the most musically fulfilling and challenging things I’ve ever done, and I’m so happy I got a chance to do it. I am grateful to my Villanova colleagues for giving me the chance.  The effort you put in will be repaid handsomely by this magnificent score.



  1. Love love love love love this!!!
    Please continue what you are doing! absolutely fascinating and insightful

  2. I found your post here when I found myself once again in love with this show. I had seen it at Lincoln Center back in ’03 and found myself actually crying at the end after “Fable” I totally enjoyed your writing here. Thanks for taking the time writing this.

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