Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Review: Centenary Stage Company’s Light Up The Sky

Centenary Stage Company’s 2011-12 theater season opened this past weekend with the classic backstage comedy “Light up the Sky” by, a giant of  American theater, Moss Hart. Hart had enormous success both as a playwright (You Can't Take It With You) and as a director (My Fair Lady).  His Light Up the Sky, as presented by the Centenary Stage Company, is a wonderful spoof of life in the theater beautifully staged by the CSC's Artistic Director Carl Wallnau and loaded with juicy roles. The large, well-cast group of 13 actors, appear to be having as much fun playing a group of eccentric, highly emotional theater types (oxymoron ?), as the opening night audience. They include Equity actors David Edwards (Carlton Fitzgerald, the director), Liz Zazzi (Francis Black,the producer's wife), Michael Irvin Pollard (playwright Owen Turner), Kirsten Hopkins (Irene Livingston, the diva), John Little (Tyler, Irene's Wall Street husband), Mikaela Kafka (Stella, Irene's mother), Eli Ganias (Sidney Black, the producer), plus Emilio Tirri (Peter Sloan, the fledgling playwright), Kathleen O’Mara (Miss Lowell, the secretary), and Johnathan Turner (Gallagher, the star-struck Shriner). David Scheffler (Plain Clothes Policeman), Kyle Parham (Sven/Shriner) and Kyle Conner (Shriner) round out the cast.

All the action in the three acts takes place in award-winning set designer Bob Phillips 's superbly detailed and very attractive luxury hotel suite in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Boston where a group of New York Broadway types are gathered for the first out-of-town performance of their new play. A more genial group cannot be found as they happily anticipate, with more than a few toasts, their pending opening night success. However, when doubts about the merits of the play arise (is it a flop?), it is time to "abandon ship"....friendships and marriages quickly become strained...with everyone ducking any possible blame for the failure. A situation and reaction not exclusive with showbiz types, of course. Here in the land of make believe, however, the results are hilarious. 

L-R: Eli Granias, David Edwards, Kirsten Hopkins
Back to the excellent, Broadway level actors; The flamboyant director, who is so moved by the play within the play that he’s always crying, is played with style by David Edwards, Kirsten Hopkins excels as the temperamental actress at the center of the evening, Irene Livingston, a role reportedly based on Gertrude Lawrence, she plays the part more like the stage and screen diva of the 40's and 50's,Tallulah Bankhead sans the deep voice, but with a  delivery a tad too fast.

The always wonderful Liz Zazzi plays the producer's sassy, ex-showgirl, wife with a taste for expensive jewelry, she is hilarious when teamed both with Eli Ganias, who perfectly plays her somewhat lowbrow, neophyte producer husband, Sidney Black, who may have more money than sense, but has the golden touch where money is concerned, and with Mikaela Kafka as Irene's always in control sarcastic mother, Stella. She and Liz make a terrific comedy duo. Mikaela's best scene is when she describes how she sneaked into the theater against the director's orders to watch a run-through of the play, posing as a cleaning lady. Her advice is, ''See this show on an empty stomach.'' 

Naive to the eccentric ways of the Broadway crowd, is the inspired first-time playwright, Peter Sloan, nicely played by Emilio Tirri. No one is sure exactly what is the message of his play beyond saving the world. When the play is described as an allegory...fear (of failure) starts to grip the group. Michael Irvin Pollard is Owen Turner, a successful, but jealous, playwright who provides wise counsel for Peter Sloan, and in the grand tradition of the theater is secretly rooting for a massive failure for his 'friends.'

Why the title Light Up The Sky?....... "The play by Moss Hart operates on many different levels and resonates in a way that transcends its comedic premise. And, oh yes, the play just works. The plot is deceptively simple. It is about a fictional play in trouble during an out of town tryout in Boston. Hart said the play was about people who loved each other, then hated each other and finally needed each other. I think it is about a bit more. It is about the need for artists to feel value and worth. It is about the impulse to create and the power of art to inspire artists to achieve the transcendent and pursue divine grace, to, in short, Light Up the Sky like a roman candle in the tired face of show business. Did I mention
that it's also funny?" Director Carl Wallnau.

Kirsten Hopkins, Emilio Tirri, John Little, Eli Granias
You have until October 16th to see this beautifully staged comedy with its terrific cast of veteran actors. To see Liz Zazzi light up the stage is worth the price of admission alone...but, they are all so good. This is a 'must-not miss' fun evening! 

Cheers to director Carl Wallnau....and his production team led by set designer Bob Phillips, lighting designer Ed Matthews, sound designer Colin Whitely, costume designer Julia Sharp, technical director David Smith, and stage manager Kathryn Hayzer.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio   October 1, 2011

The production runs until Oct 16  in the comfortable Sitnik theatre in the David and Carol Lackland Center at 715 Grand Ave, Hackettstown, New Jersey (on the campus of Centenary College). For Tickets and information, contact the box office at 908-979-0900
or Check the more than $25 for live theater with professional Equity actors. Half-price deal available (2-for-1) on Thursday evenings. 

 Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, Sundays at 2 PM, Thursdays at 7:30 PM (Family night, with special “rush” seat pricing of Two-for-One available at the door), with additional matinee performances on Wed, Oct 5 and Wed, Oct 12 at 2:00 PM.   CSC also offers a buffet matinee series which includes lunch and a matinee performance for $37.50 per person in groups of 20 or more.   
The October 9th performance of  Light Up the Sky will feature the Open Captioning service.  Open Captioning Service in New Jersey’s professional theatres is an initiative sponsored by the New Jersey Theatre Alliance to assist patrons with hearing impairment,  while enhancing the overall theatrical experience.  Tom Muza of McCarter Theatre notes, “we have learned that the program benefits a wide segment of our audience, not just the ones who know they are hard of hearing.”  Patrons with hearing disabilities may contact the box office for more information about special pricing.
Liz Zazzi

The Centenary Stage Company is a not-for-profit professional equity theatre, in residence at Centenary College, dedicated to serving as a cultural resource for audiences of the Skylands Region with professional music, theatre and dance events and arts education programs throughout the year.   Programs at the Centenary Stage Company are made possible in part through the visionary support of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the NJ State Council on the Arts and The Blanche and Irving  Laurie Foundation, as well as CSC Premium sponsors Heath Village, Skylands Community Bank, Marriot Residence Inn and Hackettstown Regional Medical Center and CSC members and sponsors. 

L-R: Eli Granias, Kirsten Hopkins, Emilio Tirri and Michael Irvin Pollard 

Photos by Bob Eberle/CSC

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