Guettel’s tunes are richly textured and warmly atmospheric; like the Tuscan light of Spencer’s story, they create “the sense that everything is clear and visible, that nothing is withheld.” [...] Guettel’s music and lyrics take nothing from the razzle-dazzle bargain basement of feeling; they represent, instead, a genuine expense of spirit. Rather than selling a cheap-and-cheerful redemption, the show offers only the prospect of repair. “The Light in the Piazza” doesn’t want to make theatregoers feel good; it wants to make them feel deeply.
“The Light in the Piazza,” whose sublime original cast album [...] has the most intensely romantic score of any Broadway musical since “West Side Story” [...].
The theater composer Adam Guettel is so overwhelmingly gifted that any news of his activities stirs the kind of fervent expectations that surround Stephen Sondheim, and before that, Leonard Bernstein. [...] Mr. Guettel has a harmonic attunement and romantic temperament that make for music that conveys an almost demonic emotional intensity. Listening to his songs brings to mind accounts of how audiences for early performances of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” fainted, overcome by the music’s beauty.
And Mr. Guettel establishes himself as a young composer of strength and sophistication, weaving strands from the Americana of Copland and the uneasy dissonance of Sondheim [...]
But the music [...] is steadily absorbing, even if only intermittently melodious. One duet, “Let’s Walk,” is an unqualified hit, but the rest, without fully cohering, is also arresting. It is—to offer a classical parallel—as if a world weaned on Brahms were suddenly confronted with Schoenberg.