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Time Out Theater Review: 'Act One'

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The late theater titan Moss Hart is in the spotlight in the new Broadway play "Act One," a work based on Hart's autobiography of the same name. Time Out New York's David Cote filed the following report for NY1.

"Act One," as the show folks among you know, is the 1959 memoir by Moss Hart, a titan of the Great White Way from the 1930s through the '50s. It's part rags-to-riches tale, part backstage tell-all, part story of how plays get made, or rather, re-made by show doctors. Now, this sacred tome has been adapted by James Lapine as a nostalgic Broadway extravaganza. Does Lapine capture the spirit of the original?

In its trajectory, scenes and major players, this version of Hart's sprawling tale is quite faithful, acted and designed with skill and panache. Lapine, who collaborated with Stephen Sondheim in the early '80s, clearly can relate to young Hart, played by the frisky and charming Fontana, who balances reverence with impatience as he gets schooled in play-fixing by the chilly, obsessive George S. Kaufman, played as a tetchy curmudgeon by Tony Shalhoub.

Less smoothly transferred from page to stage is the tone of Hart's prose, a kind of wiseacre Dickensian bombast in which characters swirl off the page with the vividness of Hirschfeld drawings. Still, Lapine has a crackerjack cast at his disposal, including Andrea Martin playing multiple roles as maternal figures in Hart's life. Beowulf Boritt's massive rotating set is a wonder to behold, twirling us from Bronx tenement to sumptuous hotel suite in a twinkling. If you love theater people, you will fall for "Act One."

Classy, wise and wistful, "Act One" is brimful of sparkling acting and insight into the joys and terrors of putting on a show. While playmaking is collaborative and theatrical authorship is never pure, this one is all Hart.

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