The Family Fiorelli
nytheatre.com review by Lois Spangler
September 30, 2007
Succinctly, The Family Fiorelli is about the choices people make and the consequences of those choices. In fact, it goes beyond that and delves into what happens when those same people take responsibility for their actions and try to make amends, make things right. It's a fantastic premise, and often it's well executed, but the show tries to do too much.
There are no fewer than four separate storylines. First is Lidia Fiorelli's affair. Married to Benno Fiorelli, Lidia's relationship with her husband has been in decline since running the family winery has absorbed all his time and attention. She finds solace in Father Michael, the karate instructor for her two sons, Martin and Antonio. Martin suffers from mild cerebral palsy, and Antonio is a vintner prodigy. Martin has his own troubles, falling in love with a girl who's seeing another guy. Oh, and there's Lidia's sister Celeste, who is starting a family with her partner Carla. Throw into that a brief foray into the mild hypocrisy of a church diocese run according to political pressures, and not necessarily the good of the souls in it, and the taming of a school bully, and you've got a musical that is too ambitious for its own good.
Which is an enormous shame. The music and lyrics are good, in particular "A Prayer to St. Jude," rendered by nine-year-old Antonio, promising good behavior in exchange for the restoration of his family—since he's absolutely certain it's his antics that have forced his parents apart. And though the song could have easily been maudlin, it's sincere and optimistic and heart-wrenching all at once. The cast is solid, but the direction felt a little uneven, and again I chalk that up to just how much the show is trying to accomplish. Just taking on two of these plots would make for a strong show, and ultimately certain characters and arcs get short shrift, like Father Michael's absolution after Lidia calls the affair off. And though I thought the relationship itself was fairly well-handled, just the addition of Celeste and Carla felt over-the-top.
All in all, I felt a lingering dissatisfaction at the end of the show, and not because I thought anyone did a poor job. It's because there were just too many things going on, and I didn't get to really explore any of them. It's like trying to see all of a world-class museum in two hours. Despite this, The Family Fiorelli is worth seeing, because it's a well executed show with a lot to be proud of. With some judicious trimming, I really think it can go very far indeed.