Wednesday, April 23, 2014

TOP PICK -- Broadway Theater Review: Act One with Tony Shalhoub and Andrea Martin

Tony Shalhoub, Andrea Martin and Santino Fontana. Photo: Joan Marcus
A Love Story about the Theater, Told with Performances and Direction Worthy of the Legend
By Lauren Yarger
Moss Hart is one of Broadway's legendary playwrights and producers, so it seems fitting that one of the most engaging productions this year on Broadway should tell his story.

James Lapine (Into the Woods, Falsettos, Passion) writes and directs this adaptation of Hart's autobiography Act One starring Tony Shalhoub ("Monk"), Andrea Martin (Pippin) and Santino Fontana (Cindrella). It focuses on Hart's early childhood, his passion for the theater his rags-to-riches story and his writing collaboration with George S. Kaufman, with whom he penned a couple of my personal favorites: the screenplay for the movie "Hans Christian Anderson," and the Pulitzer-Prize winning play You Can't Take it with You.

The story is narrated by an adult Hart (Shalhoub). The role of  Moss also is played b Matthew Schechter (as a young boy) and Fonatana (as a young man). Lapine's direction is so expert, that transitions between Moss at different ages and between actors playing multiple roles is sublime and we can only imagine director Hart himself looking down and giving a thumb's up.

Moss reflects on his humble roots, growing up poor in a small Bronx apartment where his father, Barnett (played by Shalhoub), mother, Lillie (Mimi Lieber) and little brother, Bernie (Matthew Schechter) take in boarders and provide a home for Lillie's sister, Kate (Martin). Kate doesn't help out much around the house, or offer any of her money to help the debt-ridden family get by, but she does open up the world of the theater for young Moss.

Barnett doesn't want young Moss wasting his time on things like the theater, or school, and insists he take a job to help support the family instead. Kate fuels the boy's dream of working in the theater by taking him to some matinees without his father's knowledge. Eventually, Moss secures a job as an assistant to producer Augustus Pitou (Will LeBow) and has a chance to see one of his plays produced.

He forms friendships with other  office boys Irving Gordon (Steven Kaplan), Dore Sherry (Will Brill) and Eddie Chodorov (Bill Army) who help each other secure tickets to shows and help boost each other's careers. Hart gets his first real writing job through one of them when he is tapped to create comedy sketches at The Flagher Hotel in the Catskills. The play's  locations rotate into pace on a large, three-story carousel of a set designed by the always excellent Beowolf Boritt. Lighting design is by nicely handed by Ken Billingham with costumes by Jane Greenwood.

Hart's big break comes when rival producers Jed Harris (LeBow) and Sam Harris (Bob Stilman) vie for who will produce his play, Once in a Lifetime and he is introduced to Bernard F. Kaufman (also played by Shalhoub to the audience's great delight. Kaufman shares a lot of hand-washing type obsession like detective Adrian Monk, the TV character Shalhoub portrayed for years.)

Martin also gets triple duty, playing Hart's agent Frieda Fishbein and Kafman's wife, Beatrice.

Though it errs a bit by trying to include every detail possible in the two-hour, 45-minute presentation (one can almost imagine theater creators Hart and Kaufman looking knowledgeably at their watches) it still is entirely absorbing, with not a weak performance to be found throughout the large cast playing numbers of roles. It's the kind of story you wish would never end, -- maybe Lapine should consider Act Two to continue the story of Hart's success and more personal details from his life, like his marriage to Kitty Carlisle.

Hart couldn't take it with him, but he left a legacy in the theater which audience goers can savor in Act One through June 15 at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre, 150 west 65th St., NYC.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language

1 comment:

Unknown said...

What a lovely review! How wonderful to see such an amazing book being given the play that it deserves. Oh what I would give to see such a wonderful cast perform the inspiring Act One.
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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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