This backstage comedy from the late 1940s by the great Moss Hart follows the ups and downs among a group of theater professionals as they go through the process of bringing an ambitious new show to Broadway. It’s part of what has become, as in such shows as The Producers, a Broadway institution: backstage shows about people putting on incredibly ridiculous-sounding plays. In this case, that ridiculous show within the show is something called The Time Is Now, a post-apocalyptic drama that opens on the ruins of Radio City Music Hall and in which the main character does not speak a line in the first act. Despite the team’s certainty that opening night has been a flop, somehow the show becomes a hit with the critics.
Hart based most of the characters in Light Up the Sky off of people he knew, including the famous impresario Billy Rose and his wife, Eleanor Holm. Although the Broadway characters upon whom the characters were created are mostly forgotten now, the show’s acid-tinged satire retains its bite. Director R. Michael Gros, who will lead the upcoming Santa Barbara production of the play, describes it as a “love nip” from Hart to Broadway, and the stylized dialogue and incessant wisecracks should have audiences laughing even if they have never heard of Billy Rose or Gertrude Lawrence, the diva who provided Hart with the idea of the play’s leading actress. Susie and David Couch of Circle Bar B are in the cast, as is guest equity actress Stephanie Erb. Joshua Daniel Hershfield, who was impressive as Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest at Circle Bar B, will play the protagonist, neophyte playwright Peter Sloan. It’s Sloan’s eye-opening perspective on the hypocrisy of show business that drives the satire, and he has, as one of the more experienced characters claims, “the cruelty of innocence” in the face of so much backstabbing experience. Light Up the Sky will be at SBCC’s Garvin Theatre from March 6-21, with performances Thursdays through Sundays. For tickets and information, call (805) 965-5935 or visit theatregroupsbcc.com.