Theater Review - Act One (NY)

“Act One” is the best new Broadway play of the year. I think very highly of “All the Way,” an important political play, which also will be nominated in that category. It is interesting that both are expansive works boasting large casts, and each is two hours and 45 minutes long. “All the Way” deals with Lyndon Johnson and the Civil Rights Act.  “Act One’ is based on Moss Hart's autobiography, which when published in 1959 remained on the top of the Best Seller list for over a year. Admittedly, Lyndon Johnson's name is better known than Moss Hart's; however after seeing “Act One,” you will not only learn about Hart but about how he came with his family to America from London, lived in poverty, and possessing a passion for theater, became a legendary playwright/director. 

 

The actors are well-chosen and wonderful in both plays, but it is James Lapine's sharply unique sensitive skills in writing and directing in “Act One” that provide the strength of the work. Beowulf Boritt's Set, revolving and many-layered, is inspired. Ken Billington's lighting matches every mood, and Jane Greenwood's costumes are appropriate.  Louis Rosen' original music, played on stage by Steven Kaplan and Bob Stillman, enlivens the production. 

 

I admit I am a huge Tony Shaloub fan and he does not disappoint here. In fact, he gives such a fascinating performance as both Moss Hart, who tells us from the outset that “The theatre is not so much of a profession as a disease-and my first look at Broadway was the beginning of a lifelong infection,”  his own father, and especially the tic-ridden playwright/extraordinaire George S. Kauffman with whom he collaborated for ten years, should and could be given two awards. Santino Fontana acts out the good boy and naïf Moss, with lovely energy. Matthew Schechter is charming as the very young Moss Hart. Who can explain Andrea Martin; she was a force to be reckoned with in last season's revival of “Pippin”; here she is stellar in not one, not two, but three distinct roles: Moss's spoiled Aunt Kate, who introduced him, when he was only 7, to the theater; Frieda Fishbein, a theatrical agent with masculine tendencies, and Kauffman's elegant and wise wife, Beatrice.

 

Hart has three young pals who support him throughout his struggle to become a playwright. Will Brill is a fine Dore Schary, who became a respected writer, producer and director and for a time, head of MGM.  Will Lebow is authentic as Producer Augustus Pitou, who is naked when he greets Moss Hart; and then there is Chuck Cooper, who plays a number of parts, among them, the poet Langston Hughes.

 

Loyal to his struggling family who ran a boarding house, at the end of “Act One” as soon as Hart, played by Fontana, succeeded with  “Once in a Lifetime,” he grabs his mother (Mimi Lieber), his father (Tony Shaloub) and younger brother (Schechter) to move them from Brooklyn to a new home in Manhattan. For a tearful moment, his father leans over and takes his hand in a speechless thank you.

 

“Act One” at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

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