An all-around splendid cast light up the Reuben Cordova stage as Beverly Hills’ venerable Theatre 40 serves up its topnotch revival of Light Up The Sky, Moss Hart’s affectionate skewering of the world of “The Theater.”

LUTS_307 copy The year is 1948 and tonight is Opening Night of the first out-of-town tryout of truck driver-turned-playwright Peter Sloan’s freshman opus, the portentously entitled The Time Is Now.

One by one, the Show People behind The Time Is Now begin to gather in the living room of renowned stage star Irene Livingston’s suite at Boston’s plush Ritz Carlton Hotel. These include the play’s director Carleton Fitzgerald, chief investors Frances and Sidney Black, Irene’s mother Stella, her hubby Tyler Rayburn, her playwright friend Owen Turner, her secretary Miss Lowell, and of course the young playwright himself.

LUTS_022 copy Despite the excitement in the air, there lurks the fear of possible failure, Irene’s mother having defied director Carleton’s strict “No Admittance” policy and, dressed as a charwoman, snuck into the theater during last night’s final dress rehearsal.

What Stella has to report is not encouraging, not encouraging at all. She could make neither heads nor tails of Peter’s play, and neither she fears will the audience be able to. When asks to describe the overwrought drama, Stella says she heard someone call it an “allegory.” It’s either an allegory, or “the biggest joke ever played on the city of Boston.”

LUTS_143 copy Will The Time Is Now survive what are sure to be scathing reviews from the Boston critics? Will the Blacks lose the 300,000 bucks they’ve invested? (That’s almost three million smackers in today’s currency.) Will Irene develop psychosomatic laryngitis following audience boos? Will Peter return to his Midwest truck route, his tail between his legs?

These are the questions that get answered during Light Up The Sky’s delightfully madcap two hours of comedy at its screwball best, directed by David McClendon with the same assurance and flair he brought to Theatre 40’s Laura last year.

LUTS_094 copy Real-life marrieds Stephanie Erb and Arthur Hanket star as glamorous stage legend Irene and The Time Is Now’s “Midas touch” investor, and as anyone who saw the duo’s Scenie-winning performances in Sierra Madre Playhouse’s Twentieth Century last year can tell you, there aren’t two actors better able to nail the heightened speech and theatrical flair so essential when reviving a ‘30s or ‘40s classic. Erb’s deliciously over-the-top Irene is a joy to behold, with Hanket providing expert support with his bracingly acidic take on money-man Sydney.

Meredith Thomas is a brassy treat as Hanket’s stage spouse Frances, and like Erb and Hanket, appears to have stepped straight out of a late-‘40s movie and onto the Theatre 40 stage. The same is true of the dynamic duo of Martin Thompson as seasoned playwright Owen (“Old playwrights never die, they just go out of town”) and Flora Plumb as Irene’s wise-cracking mother Stella (“Take a friend’s advice and see this show on an empty stomach”). As for David Hunt Stafford, the Theatre 40 artistic director David Hunt Stafford once again proves a laugh-getter as The Time Is Now’s director, so in touch with his own emotions that his mantra would appear to be “I could cry.”

Providing down-to-earth counterpoints to Hart’s “theater people” are the fabulous foursome of Nick Denning as The Time Is Now’s fish-out-of-water playwright, Bryan Bertone as Irene’s handsome fuddy-duddy of a Wall Street husband, Cathy Diane Tomlin as theater neophyte Miss Lowell, and John Combs as starstruck Shriner conventioneer William Gallegher, who may just be The Time Is Now’s only hope. William Murphy ably completes the cast in a trio of walk-on roles.

LUTS_056 copy Costume designer Michèle Young’s period outfits make for one sublime late-1940s treat after another on scenic designer Jeff G. Rack’s elegantly appointed Ritz Carlton suite, vividly lit by lighting design whiz Ric Zimmerman, with Bill Froggatt’s sound design completing the first-rate production design, one of the very best I’ve seen on the Theatre 40 stage.

Light Up The Sky is produced by Stafford. Don Solosan is stage manager and Priscilla Miranda assistant stage manager.

It’s plays like Light Up The Sky that folks are referring to when they give a nostalgic sigh and declare, “They don’t write’em like that anymore.” Theatre 40’s spiffy revival of this 1948 gem makes you wish that they still did.

Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills.

–Steven Stanley
December 14, 2013
Photos: Ed Krieger

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