Prior to the Theater Lab, composer-lyricist Guettel and book writer Lucas met at the institute’s Ucross retreat in Wyoming to work on their first collaboration, “The Light in the Piazza,” based on the Elizabeth Spencer novella about a mother and her daughter on vacation in Italy.
“I had wanted to do the show for two years but couldn’t find the right collaborator,” recalls Guettel, who had written only six songs for the project. “At Ucross, Craig and I had some laughs and we knew that the collaboration could work.” At the end of their three-week stay, Lucas had already generated about 30 pages.
For the two creatives, the Ucross experience led to the lab, in 2003, where they enjoyed the structure of working one day with actors and writing the next.
“This approach is revolutionary,” says Lucas. “In so many workshops you’re racing to make changes, and nothing much good can come of haste, in my opinion.”
Guettel agrees: “The one day on, one day off, keeps you in touch with the way things are going. You make radical changes quickly.”
For example, the song “Dividing Day” originally was sung by the heroine’s husband, Roy Johnson. “But it immediately became clear to us that no one really cared about Roy,” says the songwriter. Eventually, he and Lucas opted to give the character no music, and in the final version “Dividing Day” is sung by the lead character, Margaret Johnson.
“The whole idea of Margaret as the lens to the story of the young lovers Clara and Fabrizio developed at Sundance,” says Lucas.
“The Light in the Piazza” brought Guettel his first Tony Award, for score, and the musical continues to run at Lincoln Center, where it opened in April 2005.