Idealism has been lost in recent times, and it’s gained back ever so slightly through Lisa and Leonardo, currently playing as part of the New York Musical Festival.
Lisa and Leonardo makes do with a sparse set that nevertheless reflects the setting- 16th century Florence, which the playbill will cheekily tell you was “the place to be”. Lisa and Leonardo is more than a love story and the tale of the most famous painting known to man (look to Lisa’s name for a hint)- it’s an homage to the snake’s nest of political intrigue that was Florence at the time, and an ode to what it is to be an artist. Leonardo da Vinci in this is more than a man caught up in a woman’s beauty- he’s caught up in the beauty of making art itself, as is Lisa when she finally sees her portrait (see the song “Life Itself”). While a musical, one can forget while watching that much of the songs are musical- as the straight dialogue itself often seems to be part of the rhythm.
However, some songs will grip and never let go, such as “From The Master’s Hand” and “The Battle of Love”. Another sound that won’t relinquish power is the voice of Leonardo, played by Timothy John Smith, who for a moment almost reminds one of the Count of Monte Cristo in his less tortured days. This musical is bittersweet, like Monte Cristo, yet has an endearing sheen of hope the whole way through. Even when Lisa is paraded in the street as a harlot, “Something in the Light” almost makes it believable that she wants to be there, that she’s happy.
Do not come to Lisa and Leonardo for a history lesson, for there you will be disappointed. Not much of it adheres to the history books. But for an escape from the grime, muck and daily grind of the city, head to 16th century Florence for a bit of spring back in your step.