Shalom Life | August 18, 2015

Shaw Festival Review: Light Up The Sky

Hart’s play, with very little modification, has the potential of being a truly relevant and timely social satire but instead it was left to languish, leaving the audience wondering why it was included in this season’s stellar line-up.

By: Hermine Steinberg

Published: August 10th, 2015 in Culture » Stage » Reviews

Shaw Festival Review: Light Up The Sky

Light Up the Sky has often been described as a ‘back stage farce” in which Moss Hart shines the limelight on the human drama that goes on in putting up a Broadway play. However, as it is presented and even explained in the program, it feels dated, mired in shtick, and oh so predictable. The really sad part is that the problems Light Up the Sky had since its inception and original debut in 1948 still plague the show, but for The Shaw Festival, this tired treatment of the play is truly a lost opportunity. This play about a play (The Time is Now) not only reveals the nature of the theater but the politics of the 1940s and the challenge of trying to bring important issues of the time before the American public. Hart had claimed that Light Up the Sky was “intended as a Shavian comedy with serious overtones about the human frailties of human beings.” But he also conceded that although it was a commercial success, it was an artistic failure. Hart’s play, with very little modification, has the potential of being a truly relevant and timely social satire but instead it was left to languish, leaving the audience wondering why it was included in this season’s stellar line-up.

Moss Hart was one of Broadway’s golden boys, creating such hits as You Can't Take It With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner, as well as directing such hits as Camelot. He worked and hung out with the likes of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Kaufman, and Ira Gershwin. He was a very complex man plagued with personal demons but to the outside world he appeared on top of the world, living the high life with wife, Kitty Carlisle. But Moss Hart was much more than a glossy over the top celebrity of his era; he was also a thinker, an activist, and a rebel at a time when intolerance and bigotry was firmly taking root in American society.

As early as the 1930s, throughout the Great Depression and well into the 1940s, the New York theater district referred to as Broadway began to decline. In fact, the theater business had dropped off to such an extent that there weren’t enough productions to support the existing playhouses. Times Square degenerated into a carnival like atmosphere, once prominent theaters such as The Republic which was built by Oscar Hammerstein turned into Minsky’s burlesque house. Theaters throughout the area were being torn down, many turned into slums, and some were transformed into movie houses. Movies and TV began being in direct competition with the theater industry and New York real estate was going through the roof. By 1948, a shocking 80% of Broadway actors became unemployed. At the same time, intolerance and political persecution was growing and Broadway became a frontline battleground against government suppression and censorship. A congressman by the name of Martin Dies of Texas had set up a temporary committee to investigate the “extent, character, and object of un-American propaganda” in 1938 and in 1945 it gained permanent status, becoming the tool for McCarthy and others to censor, blackball, and suppress creative expression or unorthodox ideology. A few brave artists led the fight to preserve Broadway as an important cultural institution and as a breeding ground for liberal thought.

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