Photo by Don Kellogg

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Act One

Let me state right off the bat - I'm no theatrical historian.  I know very little about Mr. Moss Hart except what I've seen of some of his work.  (For more info on Mr. Hart, start here).  For knowing very little, my experience in the theatre this fine weekend afternoon was one of storytelling at its finest.  Two superb actors and a company of over 20 graced the thrust and rotating stage at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre to regale the audience with a heartwarming and thoroughly entertaining story.

Mr Hart's autobiography by the same name, Act One, is apparently very closely followed in the stage version which was written and directed by James Lapine.  If I had anything at all negative to say (and others have too) is that at almost 3 hours, it's a tad bit too long. For a story partially about Mr. Hart co-developing his first play, Once in a Lifetime, a play that ultimately toys with nixing a 3rd act, ironically this one runs practically as long as a 3 act play.  In my background reading both in the playbill itself and on-line - it seems that Mr. Hart himself may not have been entirely pleased with this fact too.  But I digress...

Tony Shalhoub and Santino Fontana both play Moss Hart - Santino, the younger; Tony, the older.  Both break the 4th wall regularly to narrate and explain the story or set the scene further.  The technique of storytelling from Mr. Hart's youth to the ultimate production of his first play makes for quite a lot of ground to cover. Mr. Shalhoub and Mr. Fontana work tirelessly - some of it literally on Mr. Shalhoub's part just to change characters as he also plays Mr. Hart's insufferable father and playwright George S. Kaufman too.  Andrea Martin does triple duty as Moss' Aunt Kate who first inspired him to pursue the theatre, Freida Fishbein a theatre professional, and Beatrice Kaufman, wife of George.  It's a treat that she was not wasted and we got to enjoy her comedic genius from start to finish.  The entire ensemble, including his family, his chums, theatre producers, actors, maids, audience members, and others turns in thoroughly synchronized and spot-on supporting ensemble roles.

The set was fantastically impressive - literally a carousel built on the Viv's turntable, constantly rotating to change scenes as the actors briskly navigated the pathways and staircases.

Messers Shalhoub and Fontana are the heart and soul (pardon the pun) of this entertaining show.  It's a tale of rags to riches told in the most tender and endearing way without being cliche or overbearing.  I sure hope they, if not Ms. Martin too, are recognized at the Tony Nominations this year.

It would be a coup for a show about a man who wrote and directed award winning shows to win an award itself.