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Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont Presents "Act One" with Tony Shalhoub and Santino Fontana
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Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont Presents "Act One" with Tony Shalhoub and Santino Fontana

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Lincoln Center Theater
At the Vivian Beaumont

Act One
(Act One Website)

A Play Written and Directed by James Lapine
From the autobiography by Moss Hart

André Bishop, Producing Artistic Director
Adam Siegel, Managing Director
Hattie K. Jutagir, Exec. Director,
Development & Planning

With: Bob Ar, Bill Army, Will Brill, Laurel Casillo
Chuck Cooper, Santino Fontana, Steven Kaplan, Will LeBow
Mimi Lieber, Charlotte Maier, Noah Marlowe, Andrea Martin
Greg McFadden, Deborah Offner, Lance Roberts, Matthew Saldivar
Matthew Schecter, Tony Shalhoub, Jonathan Spivey
Wendy Rich Stetson, Bob Stillman, Amy Warren

Sets: Beowulf Boritt
Costumes: Jane Greenwood
Lighting: Ken Billington
Sound: Dan Moses Schreier
Original Music: Louis Rosen
Production Stage Manager: Rick Steiger
Casting: Daniel Swee
General Press Agent: Philip Rinaldi
General Manager: Jessica Niebanck
Production Manager: Jeff Hamlin
Director of Marketing: Linda Mason Ross

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 22, 2014

For a study of theatrical virtuosity, in a command performance, Tony Shalhoub takes on the roles of a middle-aged Moss Hart as narrator, Moss Hart’s exhausted father, and Moss Hart’s coach and colleague, George S. Kaufman. Renowned playwright, Moss Hart died at 57 of heart failure, but his 1959 memoir, Act One, has been brought to life by James Lapine in this remarkable play at Lincoln Center Theater. Within Beowulf Boritt’s multi-level, open walled 1914-1930 set, that turns to morph from shabby Bronx apartment to glitzy Manhattan townhouse, with the Catskills and the theater district woven in, as well, three generations of Harts evolve in magnetic drama. Matthew Schecter, a child actor on the rise, is cast as young Moss and Moss’ son Bernie. Santino Fontana, in his best performance yet, and he’s had several bests, including the Prince in Broadway’s Cinderella, is cast as the 20-ish Moss, who tries his hand at Catskills shows for summering gals, an aide and ghost writer for a noted playwright, an actor in The Emperor Jones, a devoted nephew to Aunt Kate (Andrea Martin in one of her own multiple roles), who introduces him to the theater, and student to Kaufman, who is persuaded to help out with a floundering comedic play, Once in a Lifetime.

Playing Hart’s mother is an effective Mimi Lieber, who also has another small role in Hart’s play within the play. Will LeBow takes on two highlighted roles as playwright Augustus Pitou and producer Jed Harris, who at one point appears apparently undressed, interviewing Hart right out of the bath. Andrea Martin, who was s showstopper in Pippin, plays Aunt Kate, as well as Frieda Fishbein, Hart’s agent, and Beatrice Kaufman, social entertainer, who makes worthy contacts for her aspiring husband. Chuck Cooper is Wally, Charles Gilpin (a wild actor, with his own drama), and producer Max Siegel, Will Brill is writer-producer Dore Schary, and Amy Warren plays Mrs. Henry B. Harris, a Titanic survivor. There was Hart’s Bronx neighborhood cast, and there was Kaufman’s salon-soiree cast. Yet, Kaufman and Hart were inseparable, once they got over each other quirks and annoyances. As Kaufman, Mr. Shalhoub was his most mesmerizing, shaking his wrists in the air to avoid germ-filled towels, waving his wrists rapidly to avoid shaking hands, washing his hands endlessly on every human contact, and waving his pen excitedly as a thought came to him like lightning. This particular characterization was well worth the lengthy play, in itself, with its thirty-four separate characters and extra ensemble of six.

Santino Fontana is endearing and is now assured of top Broadway roles with this tour de force performance. But, it’s Tony Shalhoub who grabs the imagination, not only in the masterful, visual interpretation of the mentor Kaufman, but as the engaging raconteur, Hart, who keeps the audience aware of shifts in setting, time, and action. Andrea Martin plays the poignant Aunt Kate with humility and warmth, morphing to the comfortable and confidant Beatrice Kaufman and the sharply tuned Frieda. James Lapine has adapted Hart’s own memoir in Hart’s voice, making it all the more fascinating. He also directs, with an eye for staging, so that one character’s narration or scene is foremost, in front of such complex scenery. Beowulf Boritt’s set design is like a puzzle, with each box delineated for spotlighting the drama, oft comedic, oft heartrending. Jane Greenwood’s costumes exude threadbare simplicity, then silky refinement. Ken Billington’s lighting keeps each scenic space in focus, and Dan Moses Schreier’s sound keeps each of the thirty-four characters’ voices clear and crisp. Kudos to Tony Shalhoub and Santino Fontana, kudos to James Lapine, and kudos to Moss Hart.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at