Professor and actress Broome enlightens us on Boston#039;s Piazza

by Beacon Staff • September 24, 2008

p>,It is virtually impossible to mention Amelia Broome's name at Emerson without hearing an affectionate gasp followed by an urgent recommendation to do anything and everything to secure a space in her one of her classes. Luckily, students and Bostonians alike have the opportunity to witness the Artist in Residence of Emerson's Performing Arts Department put her exceptional theatrical skills to work.

The voice and acting professor began performing as Margaret Johnson in the Boston premiere of the soaring musical, The Light in the Piazza at the SpeakEasy Stage Company on Sept. 19 (the show will run till Oct. 18). Describing the show, she said, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread". However, after sitting in the presence of Broome for a mere five minutes, anyone could detect that she is the furthest thing from a fool.

Located on Tremont Street in Boston's South End, SpeakEasy is a local theatre company committed to presenting high quality productions of groundbreaking plays and musicals.

Based on Elizabeth Spencer's novella by the same title, The Light in the Piazza whisks audiences away to Italy in the summer of 1953 where Margaret and her daughter Clara, natives of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, are vacationing in the Tuscan countryside. When Clara encounters Fabrizio Naccarelli, a handsome young man from Florence, she falls instantly in love, much to her mother's dismay. Hence begins Margaret's dilemma. Will she reveal a devastating secret to shield her daughter from heartbreak or allow Clara the freedom to live and love as she pleases?

Audiences can expect this staging of Piazza to be slightly different from its Broadway stint. This season, SpeakEasy will perform all of its shows at the Boston Center for the Arts in the Nancy and Edward Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion. For Piazza, the petite black box space will utilize the 209-seat proscenium format. Broome described the ways in which this space has allowed Director Scott Edmiston to breathe new life into the musical.

"The set in the Broadway and touring productions was really evocative of the time and place," he said.nbsp; "It was originally conceived as they were working on it as a chamber piece in a smaller, more intimate setting. So it's coming back to its roots in that way at SpeakEasy."

An intimate setting should offer audiences something unique, a chance to examine Piazza's characters through a more refined lens. Broome articulated that, "You might get to see a little bit more perspective on the journey of each character because there are some complexities that might not have come through on such a grand scale."

The musical possesses a variety of rich layers from precocious affection (the vehement yet gentle courting of Clara and Fabrizio, two hopelessly optimistic young adults who are divided purely by language) and seasoned relationships (the rapidly crumbling marriage between Margaret and her husband, Roy Johnson, played by another Emerson Performing Arts Department faculty member, Craig Mathers).

Edmiston's concept will provide spectators with an opportunity to witness human interaction that is physically close enough to reach out and touch.

Piazza earned six Tony awards for its Broadway run, including Best Actress in a Musical (Victoria Clark as Margaret Johnson). When asked if she was intimidated to step into such a role, Broome tranquilly remarked, "I am honored to be in it. Victoria Clark is stupendous. At the moment, I'm excited and awed by [it] because it's huge. In our conversations about the character, Scott asked, lsquo;What scares you the most?' and I had to tell him, lsquo;I'm not scared'. It's not about fear. It's excitement and anticipation."

Adam Guettel's lavish score was also awarded the coveted Tony in its category and has gained immense critical acclaim for its intricate structure. Broome said that singing his music is challenging because it is not anywhere near as simple as it sounds.

"There are rhythmic and tonal complexities that are sometimes hard to get if there's a huge emotional moment, but if you're paying attention, the music always gives information on the character," she said.nbsp; "I also find this music physically extremely satisfying to sing. It's a spa experience."

It's not surprising that Broome is at ease despite the responsibility that lies on her shoulders. She has a great deal of personal experience to draw from in developing her character. To begin with, she hails from Georgia.

"There's a lot that's in my skin as far as Margaret is concerned and what is Southern about her," she said. "For example, I can relate to the strength that we find while still maintaining grace and delicacy."

In addition to her Southern roots, Broome commented upon the ways in which her chosen vocation as an acting professor has manifested itself in her exploration of Margaret.

"As a teacher I contain a lot. There's a room full of people with all these psyches and I need to know how to get us all to where we need to go. I feel like the operative word for Margaret is to contain. I'm containing what's happening in my marriage and how that is affecting my daughter. It's part of the personality that is both teacher and mother," Broome said.

Mother is yet another operative word for Broome's character.br /The emotional weight of the musical hinges on the dynamic between Margaret and Clara. Broome said that her relationship with her co-star Erica Spyres (Clara Johnson) has been "really pleasurable because she's such a remarkable young woman. She has strength but she also has a delicacy and fragility that makes me want to take care of her."

This maternal instinct, however beneficial to her character, may prove to be an obstacle of epic proportions. Over the two-hour course of the musical, she must gradually abandon her traditional values and seamlessly shift from exceedingly skeptical and dismissive to whole-heartedly supportive of her daughter's romance.

After nearly an hour of extensive examination of all things Piazza, Broome reflected once more upon her innate link to Margaret in conjunction with the message that the piece seeks to convey. She candidly disclosed, "I've been married for 22 years. All of us married people in the cast smile and nod at some of the dialogue. In addition to the beautiful story of the young'uns, it's also a story of mature relationships, love, what stays together, and what comes apart. All of the adults in the room look up every now and then and go, lsquo;Yup, I know that'."