Review of Open Fist Theater’s “Light Up The Sky” -- Life On A Stage

Open Fist Theater has a reputation for dazzle and delight.  Its meek exterior provides the audience for a boom upon the opening number.  That’s what I like about it.   But Moss Hart’s “Light Up The Sky” isn’t a musical.  It’s a 1940’s behind the scenes look at Broadway.  And as a Sinatra guy, this is my bread n’ butter.  1940s… when a flask was common-wear, liquor was quicker, a ballsy broad was a dame and a pin-striped, pocket square-wearing gent controlled the room.  And now we get to travel back...

The cast and crew of "Light Up The Sky"


Tonight’s Story Begins…

“Light Up The Sky” is the story surrounding a try-out for a new Broadway show.  The lead actress, financial backer, director, and all entourages are gathered in a glamorous hotel suite before and after the show, anticipating a tremendous success based on the earnest work of a young unknown writer.

As the story opens, we meet Miss Lowell ( Amanda Weier), a distractingly-thin assistant/Jill-of-all-trades.  As the parade of characters enter, we relate closest to her, after all she’s the most normal.  Soon comes flaming director, Carlton Fitzgerald ( Colin Campbell), fast-talking financier Sidney Black ( Benjamin Burdick) with cannonball wife Frances ( Andrea Syglowski), the play’s legendary, but maybe-seen-better-days lead actress Irene Livingston ( Laura Flanagan), the veteran playwright Owen Turner ( Kevin McCorkle) and fresh, new writing sensation Peter Sloane ( Dominic Spillane) and their collective entourages and passerby’s including  Barbara Schofield, Richard Michael Knolla, Andrew Ortiz, Phillip William Brock, Andrew Ortiz, and the incomparable voice of Jason Paige.


Back to the story.  Miss Lowell, while leading the first few minutes, will end up taking a supporting role, then almost vanishing entirely.  And therein lies one of the first problems.  Majority of the ensemble is on-stage for the first act’s forty-five minute duration.  With relatively flat lighting it’s a lot to look at with very little perspective for the audience. Valuable stage time wanders along, with enough running around to be reminiscent of “Clue”. But it gets better.  Really.

About two-thirds into the first act, veteran scribe Owen delivers a line that unveils a strong theme for the entire storyline.  During an argument, actress Livingston is asked to walk along with the director towards the other side of the hotel suite.  She hesitates until Owen encourages her: “Move upstage”.  She takes the direction.  Right then and there so much becomes clear, the story is meant for a certain audience; those who serve time in production: television, film, theater.  It’s an inside-joke just for you.  Wink, wink.  


Building it Up

The second act is its strongest.  It begins after the play’s debut and starts with a quiet moment between wife Frances ( Syglowski) and mother Livingston ( Schofield). The importance of Syglowski’s character portrayal is shown.  When Burdick’s Sidney Black returns and stirs it up with his wife, we get the shining moments of our evening.  These two are a delight. Tat for tat, sexy and textured.  We see their love, hate, romance and passion.  We could practically imagine their nightly dinner conversations.  Not remotely mundane.  And just how they prefer it.

Think Robert DeNiro and Cathy Moriarty in “Raging Bull”, where she goads him just because she can.  Feeds him to the point of arousal and then laughs while he explodes.  Then they hug it out and start all over.


Burdick brings out a firey James Cagney quality.  Scorching, frustration, rage, all with a persistently deadly comic twist.  Top o’ the world, Ma!  The moments fly by with tension ratcheting higher and higher.

The Long Fade

Anticipation was at the roof entering the third act.  It starts off slow, but this time without Syglowski’s immediate involvement, and it doesn’t build.  It’s a long resolution with an ending that may not leave you as satisfied as it could.


Theater is a writer’s world.  And most writers are not pretty.  They live hard, adventure the world, learn, and then reflect that life experience onto the written page.  They get ugly, so that performers can be pretty and shine with the writer’s work making it audience-friendly. Spillane’s Sloane is pretty; at the beginning, middle and end.  Matinee idols don’t ache, they’re meant to beam.

Shine the Marquee

Andrea Syglowski shines


I’ve praised Benjamin Burdick in the above paragraphs, so I’ll simply say here that his presence allows the production the bite it needs.  His energy; he fuels the engine.  A smart producer will find a two-character play for he and Syglowski where they can tear off the roof each night.

Andrea Syglowski is a tasty dish served up in a MGM musical-styled siren gown.  Her behavior and voice styled perfectly for the ditzy drole of the period, conjuring moments of Jennifer Tilly’s Oscar-nominated performance in Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway”.  

Spillane has a Clark Kent quality. His dreamy blue eyes illicit immediate attention from the audience.  What he picks as his next project will determine ocean’s of value for himself.  

Colin Campbell soaks up the crowd’s energy with exuberance.  His voracity is clear, but he has many more shades of which he should explore.

Laura Flanagan delivers special moments.  She captures the essence of a famed actress giving “you had to be there” gems.  Very “Sunset Boulevard”.  If she modeled this after any true-life divas, we should ask for juicy details.

Backstage

Director Bjorn Johnson celebrates with lovely actress Nicole Disson at the opening gala


Bjorn Johnson is a deep guy.  As director, his fingerprints were seen throughout the production and every decision he made was well thought-out.  Renowned for his acting, directing and coaching, his control carries through.

Caitlin R. Campbell is a sturdy producer.  Be it film or theater, she brings production value and always several showcase performances.  One hopes she might take a bigger bite next time.

A. Jeffery Schoenberg’s costume design was given delicious opportunity with the era.  Ellen Monocroussos’ lighting choices left questions to be answered.  Peter Carlstedt’s sound design was minimal, but effective.  

The after-party was filled with happy faces, everyone enjoying the company and hopeful for a successful run.  As Johnson tweaks the production, “Light Up The Sky” will grow.  I’m not sure how it’d do in Des Moines, with a non-industry crowd, but in LA it’s gone be just fine.

“Light Up The Sky” runs at the Open Fist Theater in Hollywood, CA
January 16-March 7, 2009
Fridays and Saturdays: 8pm
Sundays: 3pm

For more information, or to buy tickets, please visit: www.openfist.org

Open Fist Theater
6209 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Tickets $20
 
Press photos by: Maia Rosenfeld; Gala photos provided by Jennifer Joy; www.prembodhiart.com



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