‘The Light in the Piazza’ celebrates the arts, creativity at Ole Miss

Published 2:17 pm Friday, November 19, 2021

The University of Mississippi will hold its first production of the six-time Tony award winning Broadway production The Light in the Piazza on Friday, Nov. 19 at the Getrude C. Ford Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m.

The second production is set to take place on Sunday, Nov. 21 at 3 p.m.

Piazza is based on a 1960 novella by Mississippi writer Elizabeth Spencer and it tells the story of a North Carolina mother Magaret Johnson and daughter Clara with a secret visit to Florence in the 1950s, where the daughter falls in love with a local young man against the mother’s wishes.

“This is an exceptional event and one that the University of Mississippi is very proud to host,” said Lee Cohen, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “We are truly fortunate to be part of an institution that strongly supports the fine and performing arts and hosting an acclaimed musical such as The Light in the Piazza fits well with our vision for the study and promotion of the arts on our campus.” 

The production features music by two-time Tony award winner composer Adam Guettel and has enlisted the talents of actor, singer-songwriter and guest faculty Blake McIver Ewing to direct and actress and singer-songwriter Mary Donnelly Haskell to reprise her role as Margaret. Musical direction will be by collaborative pianist and associate professor of Music Amanda Johnson.

The university is providing students in the production a chance to get a taste of what a Broadway production is really like.

Vocal performance graduate student Miranda Shapiro said all of the professionals on the production are nice, helpful and supportive of the students and are extremely good at what they do.

“Something I’ve definitely learned from them is being a professional and behaving as a professional means you show up on time, you know your part and, most of all, that you’re kind to everyone else,” said Shapiro.

Alexis Rose, a senior vocal performance major, said getting the chance to speak with Guettel on music analysis was a moving experience. Rose plays the role of a tour guide in Piazza and acts as a member of the ensemble.

“I got to talk to him personally about his compositional methods, how he writes music and the analysis behind the music in the show,” said Rose. “Being able to perform a show like this which isn’t likely performed at the university level has been really cool.”

Rose said the production allows the students to branch out of their usual repertoire and helped them in their training.

Shapiro plays multiple different roles throughout the production like a florist and a nun but she says her most challenging role takes place during “Clara’s Tirade” as Clara’s maid.

“[Clara’s] angry at her mother and she starts throwing things and yelling at people,” said Shapiro. “I am amazed in that scene and my job is to react to what she’s doing. There is a book in that scene and every single time it comes apart and pages fly everywhere. It’s a little hard in that scene to go and grab all the pieces because you never know where they’re going to end up. It makes it fun in a way because it’s different every time.”

Cohen said the university not only has the responsibility to instill a love of lifelong learning in our students and providing a top-tier education, they have a responsibility to prepare our students for life after college.  

“When an opportunity is created by our faculty to bring in leaders in their respective fields, and we have departments working together to make something like this happen, it helps to make our students even more competitive in the workforce and builds professional relationships that will last a lifetime,” said Cohen.

According to Cohen, Piazza was a collaboration across departments, alumni and professionals in the field and showed what the University of Mississippi could accomplish, especially if everyone worked together. Piazza’s success could be an event celebrated throughout the LOU community for years to come.

“I am truly excited to see what is to come,” said Cohen. “I also think it begs the question to students looking to study music, theater, film, art, or art history – why not come to the University of Mississippi?”

For more information on The Light in the Piazza or to purchase tickets, visit www.olemissboxoffice.com. Tickets are $20 for the general public, $10 for students, faculty and staff. The show will take place on the main stage of the Getrude C. Ford Center.