Let’s hear it for the bathrobes. Each defines the character wearing it. Every single one is fabulous.
It’s Act III of LIGHT UP THE SKY at Citadel Theatre. 1948. Middle of the night. A suite at the Ritz Carlton in Boston. The robes – created by costume designer Paul Kim – remind us that the world onstage has all but vanished.
That world happens to be the heyday of the Broadway tryout, through the lens of Moss Hart who knew a thing or two about it. In the 1930s, Moss and George S. Kaufman co-authored the enduring megahits You Can’t Take It With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner.
As a solo writer a decade later, Hart wrote LIGHT UP THE SKY, a comedy about show biz types tripping over egos in the hours before and after the Boston tryout of a new play. By 3:45 a.m., even the parrot – who has LIGHT UP THE SKY’s opening lines – “SRO, no seats till January” – is overtired. The show, a dreary allegory that no one actually understands, is declared a disaster and the producers want out of their $300,000 investment.
LIGHT UP THE SKY: a time when Broadway mattered
Once upon a time, Broadway mattered. Major cities like Boston had multiple newspapers with full time critics. A rich married couple, not corporate entities, could finance a show. A stage actress could become a legend. A playwright could build a career. A cast could include enough characters to send two off to the side to play cards for a while. Working with a slim plot, director Pat Murphy chooses to recall this era without 21st Century commentary.
In this viewer’s opinion, LIGHT UP THE SKY doesn’t offer enough floodlights to merit a revival. But it does have some viable one-liners, plus priceless details from the past. First time playwright Peter Sloan (Jordan Golding) calls American Airlines to order a ticket that he’ll just “pick up at the window.” To catch the young man before he flies back to New York, producer Sidney Black (Rob Frankel) tells the operator to connect him to Boston’s airport manager. Nearly 70 years later, air travel so personal is hard to imagine.
Citadel Theatre production picks up steam
LIGHT UP THE SKY’s low dramatic stakes and rigidly etched characters make it hard to build comedic tension. However, Rob Frankel’s Sidney has marvelous energy that’s convincing right from the top. Others onstage pick up steam and join him in what finally becomes a concluding romp. Unexpectedly, Golding’s Peter pauses the action for a heartfelt phone conversation with his girlfriend about his presumed failure as a writer. It’s nice. It’s real. Besides fabulous robes, LIGHT UP THE SKY’s show people deserve that level of truth.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre In Chicago.
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Susan Lieberman is a Jeff-winning, Emmy-nominated playwright, journalist and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre.