Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Light up The Sky"

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note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Susan Daniels

"Light up The Sky"

A Review by Susan Daniels

Moss Hart’s 1948 back-stage comedy, “Light Up the Sky,” lights up the Lyric Stage Company of Boston with an all-star cast who sashay and hurl one-liners with the deftness and aplomb befitting the ensemble of {mostly} veteran actors.  Never missing an opportunity to embellish their respective characters’ foibles, the fun and frolicsome banter keep this period piece hopping from shtick to shtick, which runs through June 13th.

With a discerning ear for timing and a fine eye for hamminess, director Scott Edmiston guides this first-rate ensemble through all the hoops inherent in a comedy sated with a panoply of stock characters.  There is Irene (Paula Plum), the grand, leading lady whose capricious characterization is filled to the brim with diva-like moves and narcissistic melodramatics, transitioning from feeling under the weather to manic to melancholy in a New York second; her mother, Stella (Bobbie Steinbach), a sarcastic, gin rummy-playing gambler who loves her drink and, in a highlight bit, milks every moment with a description of when she disguises herself as a cleaning lady in order to sneak into the ‘closed’ dress rehearsal; the flamboyant, superstitious director of the play {within a play}, “The Time Is Now,” Carleton (Will McGarrahan), who has a tendency towards tears for any happy/sad moments and grandiose gestures and, in the opening scene, sings “Another Opening” while tinkling the ivories; Sidney (Will LeBow), the pretentious and prosperous producer with a penchant for razzle dazzle and passion for hype decades before the term was coined, whose charismatic presence is as bright as a spotlight; his blond, wise-cracking wife and ice-skating star, Frances (Kathy St. George), a terrific whirlwind of borderline ditzy who adores shopping sprees and makes her appearance carrying a Filene’s bag;  In service to the plot, they are all opportunists.  In service to the production, they are scene stealers extraordinaire!

The neophyte playwright, Peter (Alejandro Simoes), a truck driver who penned his script while on the road, is committed to showcasing a serious play -- no matter the stakes.  Owen (Richard Snee), the experienced playwright (and Plum’s real life husband), who takes Peter under his wing at the 11th hour, is on point throughout his comedic delivery. As Irene’s stage husband, Tyler (Terrence O’Malley), a successful stockbroker, aptly portrays a milquetoast apparently happy to be living in his wife’s shadow.

Rounding out the cast is Irene’s secretary, Miss Lowell (Jordan Clark) and William (Bob Mussett), a star-struck Shriner from Indiana whose brief time on stage proves entertaining.

With all these zany characters, the play almost writes itself. But Hart’s send-up of theater people on the cusp of opening night -- and the day after --  depicts the long gone tradition of the pre-Broadway try-outs when New York City producers, writers, directors, composers, choreographers, and actors had the opportunity to re-write, improve and/or tweak their show while {usually} performing for audiences in Boston, Philadelphia and Hartford. 

Set in Boston’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the curtain opens on a luxurious suite decorated with French Provincial furniture and two chandeliers, created by Scenic Designer Janie E. Howland.  The plot humorously unfolds as the ten characters, bringing along their respective agendas, make their entrances -- at least half of them in grand, over-the-top style, enhanced by eye-catching 1940‘s attire by Costume Designer Gail Astrid Buckley.  

“The Time is Now” cast and collaborators are nervous and excited, anticipating a successful opening night.  In Act 2, the day after, however, all parties consider the show a flop.  Fingers start pointing as they turn against each other while still maintaining the comic atmosphere.  Ultimately, misinterpretations are rectified when the rookie playwright finally grows a pair of balls and leads the troupe -- pun intended -- towards a viable resolution.

First class all the way, Edmiston has tapped Lighting Designer Karen Perlow and Sound Designer Samuel Hanson, whose skills reinforce the theme and content of the comedy.  To the betterment and merriment of the show, he has added a few Broadway oldies -- “Another Opening, Another Show,” “Why Make the Show Go On?” -- closing the comedy with St. George belting out “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” with the entire cast singing along.

Over the years, the cast and collaborators have racked up a combined total of 22 Elliot Norton Awards in their respective fields as well as 19 IRNE Awards.  Add to that two recipients (Scott Edmiston, Paula Plum) for the Elliot Norton Award for Sustained Excellence in Theatre, along with Boston Magazine’s 2012 Best of Boston (Bobbie Steinbach), the StageSource Theatre Hero Award (Edmiston), and (for Plum) both the Distinguished Alumni Award from Boston University and the national Fox Actor Fellowship.

Moss’ last funny play, “Light Up the Sky,” replete with humorous, local references, showcases an impressive ensemble slinging zingers at every turn.  No wonder I was smiling from ear-to-ear and laughing out loud throughout the two hour ascent into hilarity.

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"Light up The Sky" (till 13 June)
@ 140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide