Revival Parodies Show-Biz Folk


Light Up the Sky Comedy by Moss Hart. Directed by Larry Carpenter. Starring Peggy Cass, Charles Keating, Bill McCutcheon, Linda Carlson, Betsy Joslyn. At the Roundabout Theatre through Sept. 23. MOSS HART'S ``Light Up the Sky'' began its history in 1948 as a tryout comedy about a tryout comedy. Mr. Hart had intended the piece as a serious work with comic content. But in the course of its Boston engagement, the playwright reworked the material until humor became uppermost. The astutely observed satire on theater folk opened on Broadway on Nov. 18, 1948, and played for 214 performances.

Claiming the first major New York revival of the play in 42 years, the Roundabout Theatre Company honors the occasion with a boisterous and sometimes uproarious salute to theatrical things past.

Some of Hart's characters were said to be based on such then headline personalities as Gertrude Lawrence, Guthrie McClintic, Billy Rose, and Eleanor Holm - possible resemblances that will mean little to latter-day audiences.

What remains valid is the veteran author-director's comic treatment of how and why the play's not always the thing when out-of-town tryouts and ego trips go hand in hand.

``Light Up the Sky'' takes place in stage star Irene Livingston's suite at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Boston, on the afternoon and opening night of ``The Time Is Now,'' an allegorical drama by a first-time playwright, until recently a truck driver. The mood switches from high hope as curtain time approaches to deep despair in the immediate aftermath of the opening. Hopes soar anew when the notices unexpectedly perceive possibilities in the fledgling work.

THE circumstances served Hart for a good-natured assault on show-biz temperaments and tantrums. The principal types are a director perpetually on the verge of tears (Charles Keating), his ever-flouncing star (Linda Carlson) and her ``redoubtable old pirate of a mother'' (Peggy Cass), an artsy-shrewd backer (Bruce Weitz) and his tough-talking wife (Betsy Joslyn), a former ice show star, and - last but not quite least - the very new playwright (John Bolger). (Mr. Weitz has been replaced by Jason Alexander.)

The passing Ritz Carltonites also include the star's stiffly Harvardian husband (John Vennema), her biographical ghost writer (Glynis Bell, replacing Elaine Bromka), and a veteran playwright (Humbert Allen Astredo) who has been through it all before. To perk things up in the third act, Hart introduces a conventioneering Shriner, seen here in the incomparably comic person of Bill McCutcheon. There couldn't be a more welcome interloper.

Larry Carpenter has staged a rambunctious revival that occasionally tends to get out of hand. One and all onstage seem bent on proving that, as Irving Berlin once observed, ``there's no people like show people.''

Moss Hart drives the point home. Andrew Jackness's Ritz Carlton setting (lighted by Dennis Parichy) pays tribute to Boston's storied hostelry. Martin Pakledinaz has designed costumes to suit characters and period.

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