Stage exit

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspenite David Ledingham and Christine Andreas are featured in the national touring production of the musical "The Light in the Piazza," opening in Denver this week. (Joan Marcus)

A year ago, David Ledingham was starting to think of settling down in Aspen. Ledingham, who had grown up here before going on to a national TV and stage career, had a part lined up for the summer in Theatre Aspen’s production of “Dinner with Friends.” In his early 40s, he was ready to pull the plug on his routine of going to New York for auditions, and he was encouraged by Theatre Aspen’s efforts to have a year-round presence.And, in a most significant way, Ledingham had already settled down. Ledingham and his wife, Adrianna Thompson, have a 5-year-old son, Aidan. Since Aidan’s birth, the family had been shuttling between Aspen and Brooklyn, with some periods in San Francisco.Moreover, Ledingham was tired of waiting by the phone. He had auditioned for a role in the Tony Award-winning musical “The Light in the Piazza,” which was set for a national tour. Ledingham was more than hopeful that his agent would call with good news.”I knew I nailed it,” he said. “But six weeks went by and I didn’t hear anything. So I was really ready to chuck it.”It turns out Ledingham did nail the audition. When his agent phoned, it was to tell him that his client had been offered the part of Signor Naccarelli, an Italian gentleman whose son was in a tenuous romance with an American girl. Ledingham was still on the fence, uncertain if he wanted to commit to nearly a year on the road.Eight months later, Ledingham has settled not into Aspen, but into a life of one city after the next, and a long string of hotel rooms. He has played Signor Naccarelli since the touring production of “The Light in the Piazza” opened, in San Francisco, in August. Since then Ledingham and the show – which earned six Tonys for its 2005 Broadway run – have been to Des Moines and Tampa, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

The show lands at Denver’s Buell Theatre March 27-April 8. (Ledingham will make a rare trip to Aspen April 3, and won’t appear onstage that night.)”The Light in the Piazza” may be the last chance audiences get to see Ledingham in such a grand production. Once again, he’s contemplating turning his attention to Aspen.”I thought this might rekindle my passion to move back to New York full time,” said Ledingham, who helps his mother, Norma Dolle, run her B&B operation, the Silver Queen Lodge, when he is in town. “But that hasn’t happened. It’s made me want to come back to Aspen more.”I can’t foresee doing another national tour, unless they pay me really well.”Ledingham’s acting career has been marked by a variety of experiences. After graduating from Aspen High and CU Boulder, then taking a stab at an acting career in New York, he enrolled in graduate school at the University of California, San Diego. In the early ’90s, he landed the role of Suede in the TV soap “One Life to Live,” a job that would last two years. When Suede experienced the inevitable for every soap character – an early demise – the actor turned his attention to the stage. Ledingham appeared in a production of “The Grapes of Wrath” staged by the famed Chicago company, Steppenwolf; the Tony Award-winning adaptation of Steinbeck’s classic took Ledingham to London’s National Theater and California’s La Jolla Playhouse. In the mid-’90s, Ledingham co-founded the Pegasus Repertory Theatre Company, which brought two seasons of high-minded drama to the Wheeler Opera House. He participated in a handful of Theatre Aspen productions, directing the drama “Art,” and acting in “Lend Me a Tenor,” “The Underpants” and “Twelfth Night.”In 2005, Ledingham directed “Hitler, Stalin, and Walter O’Malley,” a poignant, nostalgic 20-minute film that used baseball – specifically, the 1955 World Series-winning Brooklyn Dodgers – to explore themes of loyalty. Ledingham then co-wrote a TV pilot for the film, with the title changed to “Stealing Home,” and landed a pitch meeting last May with the president of HBO. A proposed deal crumbled, and when the part of Signor Naccarelli came along, Ledingham turned his attention from film and the ’55 Dodgers to the stage and 1953 Tuscany, the setting of “The Light in the Piazza.”

If Ledingham never does a national tour again, it won’t be because of disenchantment with the material in his first go-round. “The Light in the Piazza” has been praised for displaying an unusual complexity for a romantic musical, and earned comparisons to “West Side Story.” Particularly noteworthy is the music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, grandson of the Broadway legend Richard Rodgers. Guettel earned a Tony for his score. Some songs are performed entirely in Italian; dialogue is often delivered in broken English.”People who love music love this show,” said Ledingham. “They love the music. A lot of great actors think this is one of the great musicals to come through in years.”Ledingham says the play itself can be as unsettling as the experience of being away from his family and living in hotels. The director, Bartlett Sher, has given Ledingham instructions on his character, only to give him contradictory notes the following day.”I told him, ‘You told me the opposite yesterday,'” said Ledingham. “And he’d say, ‘Yes, it’s both.'”He’s looking for complexity of characters, and layers and layers and layers of meaning. The audience makes up its own conclusions about the play, like Pinter or Beckett, a complex genre of play.”Ledingham finds his own role particularly interesting. The story focuses on the young lovers, Clara and Fabrizzio, but there is a subtle subtext between their parents, Signor and Margaret, both married.

“It’s about what love is for them, what yearnings they still have. What’s there for the older people?” said Ledingham. “There’s an equally powerful story there.”Outside of the play itself, Ledingham gets his kicks from the theaters themselves that he has been appearing in. He has played the Kennedy Center in Washington and the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles; the tour closes in late July at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. Particularly impressive was Atlanta’s Fox Theater, one in a small chain of venues built in the 1920s.”Unbelievable,” said Ledingham. “Forty-five hundred seats; the inside ceiling has clouds that move by. For me, that’s much different than what I’m used to.”When Ledingham does retire from the life of chasing down parts – and playing them – across the country, there’s a good chance his strongest memories won’t be of the Signor Naccarelli’s center-stage moments or the theaters he played, but the family moments. He negotiated family time into his contract, and Aidan and Adrianna have seen him perform some 15 times.”The times we’ve been on the road together, those are memories I’ll always have,” he said. “Daddy touring around the country, doing the big show. That’s pretty cool.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is