Reviewed by James Karas
The Shaw Festival offers a funny and finely acted production of Moss Hart’s Light Up The Sky for the latter part of its season. The 1948 comedy is a take-off on behind the scenes shenanigans of a pre-Broadway opening of a play in Boston. This is an uncomplicated, highly entertaining comedy in a beautiful setting with show people and all their eccentricities.
Charlie Gallant as Peter Sloan, Claire Jullien as Irene Livingston and Thom Marriott as Sidney Black.
Photo by David Cooper.
Start with a suite in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Boston several hours before the opening of a new play by an unknown author (played by Charlie Gallant). Bring on the eccentrics involved with the production: director, producers, star actor, playwright, family, friends and a Shriners Convention. It is a recipe for wit and laughter provided you have the right director and cast.
The Shaw Festival does starting with Director Blair Williams who sets a brisk pace and is attentive to movements and intonation from two-word lines to histrionic speeches.
The star of the play being staged in Boston is Irene Livingston, played by Claire Jullien, who acts the way you expect stars to act. She is the centre of the world, emotional, admired, coddled, temperamental and bitchy. Jullien does it all and who can ask for anything more, as the commercial says.
Hart and Williams manage to get laughs from most of the characters but Thom Marriott as the producer Sidney Black seemed to get a bigger chunk of them than the others. He is a businessman who has invested a huge sum of money. He tries to please everyone when all is going well and then goes nuts when he fears losing his investment. Marriott overdoes the character to great effect.
Steven Sutcliffe plays the director Carleton Fitzgerald and he is so emotional he cries at just about everything including even card tricks.
Two funny and overdone characters are Frances Black (Kelli Fox), Sidney’s skater wife and investor in the play and Irene’s mother Stella Livingston (Laurie Paton) who play cards and off each other producing laughter.
Hart included himself in the play as a playwright called Owen Turner (Graeme Somerville). He is sarcastic, witty, rational and decent without any of the exaggerated eccentricities of most of the other characters.
Kelli Fox as Frances Black, Shawn Wright as William H. Gallegher and Laurie Paton as Stella Livingston.
Photo by David Cooper
The euphoria of the pre-opening gathering in Irene’s suite gives way to despair and recrimination after the performance. We see everyone in a different light as they start bitching about the perceived fiasco on their hands. Tempers flare and the scene rises to a crescendo of laughter and mayhem.
Hart did not believe in unhappy endings and in the final act the feared flop blossoms into a huge hit even if it needs some work. The noisy and intolerable Shriners who were heard and seen outside the suite provide a very funny character in William Gallegher played by Shawn Wright. Gallegher is a wealthy businessman who loves the theatre even if it is from a distant memory of playing Hamlet in High School. He loved the new play and wants to invest in future productions. Wright gives a terrifically funny performance and almost steals the show.
Light Up The Sky is an old style comedy that relies on wit and situation. It deals with the theatre and that is an added attraction for people who love the theatre. The actors get to play familiar characters and when necessary overact to their heart’s content. With those ingredients at hand, the result is a very good night at the theatre.
Light Up the Sky by Moss Hart opened on July 25 and will run in repertory until October 11, 2015 at the Festival Theatre, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com.