Roman Catholic sauciness served up with the basic ingredients of the Anglo-Saxon musical remains a winning dish in Italy with the revival of “Aggiungi un Posto a Tavola,” the country’s most popular homemade tuner, some 30 years after it opened at Rome’s Teatro Sistina.
The title, which translates as “Add Another Place to the Table,” was changed to “Beyond the Rainbow” when the show was adapted into English for the London stage in 1978.
Current Italian production — the fifth since 1974 — may not be the best of its many runs. But this tamely transgressive sendup of celibacy for priests and other Catholic mores, spiced generously with small-town sex antics and laced with diabolically silly songs and adequate dancing numbers, certainly hasn’t lost its allure, at least for local theatergoers.
Young Father Silvestro gets a phone call from God, who tips him off to the coming of a second biblical Flood and informs the principled clergyman that he has three days to get an ark built to save the villagers. Per the Lord, the townsfolk must procreate before they hop on board. Meanwhile, in the throes of a hormonal tempest, Clementina, the mayor’s blossoming blonde daughter, keeps coming on to the handsome priest, pretending to need conscience-cleansing in the confession booth. The maidenly temptress is the first of many obstacles that test the pastor’s resolve to do good and rescue his flock.
Despite lackluster singing in his musical debut, Giulio Scarpati — best known as the star of hot TV serial “Un Medico in famiglia” — pulls off a passable perf as the archetypal positive priest thanks to his ruddiness and peppy physicality. Most of the other lead thesps, including Margot Sikabonyi as Clementina and Max Giusti as Toto, the village idiot who discovers sex, are unremarkable. Main standout is Chiara Noschese as Consolation, the prostitute who gives Toto his cathartic first taste of honey. Noschese oozes raciness as soon as she appears on the balcony of her boudoir, and her sharp crooning soars above the other paltry pipes. Also notable is veteran thesp Enzo Garinei as the sneaky mayor, whom he plays with consummate, crowd-pleasing skill.
The real star of this souped-up operetta, however, may be the stage itself. It’s a double rotating proscenium on which the mountain village, with church and piazza, turns into wonderfully lit woods, then becomes a tall ark, in a dazzling display of Italian craftsmanship devised by late great designer Giulio Coltellacci, whose original flowery pastel costumes have also been revived. Gino Landi’s original choreography is serviceable enough but could use a more modern edge. Music by Armando Trovaioli, best known for his film scores for Ettore Scola, is pleasantly old fashioned.
Veteran director Pietro Garinei, who wrote “Beyond” with partner Sandro Giovannini, gives his best known and widely traveled piece a breezy pace, keeping the twists and turns coming, thanks to the well-woven storyline that never lets boredom seep through.
While tradition-loving Italian audiences continue to lap up the frothy concoction, this musical’s ability to continue crossing borders will depend largely on the success of offshore productions in tweaking the show for contemporary tastes.