Theater Review By: Sandi Durell



A rags to riches story, Act One takes wing as one of the theater’s all-time icon’s memoir (Moss Hart) comes alive at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, adapted and directed by Tony Award winner James Lapine. The play is narrated by the older Hart (Tony Shaloub) in flashbacks, as he also takes on the role of Barnett Hart (Moss’ father) and playwright George S. Kaufman. (talk about triple threats!)



image-4The brilliant Moss Hart was destined for greatness in theater as a young boy living in poverty in a tenement apartment with his parents, his Aunt Kate and boarders. The young focused 20-something Moss, played by Santino Fontana, (of recent Cinderella fame) was born to write, and was inspired by his Aunt (Andrea Martin) who exposed him to theater, feeding his longings. His desperation to become part of the process leads him to his first job as office boy and subsequent secretary to producer Augustus Pitou (Will Lebow), who also plays the much-hated, and in this play, nearly naked Jed Harris.


image-2As the youngster Hart (played by a well cast Matthew Schechter), we see him and the young man Hart (Fontana), running tirelessly up and down the two level turntable set of rooms that morph from shabby apartment, to office, to the luxurious surroundings of Kaufman’s penthouse, designed by Beowulf Boritt. Jane Greenwood has created the era costumes in this time period of 1914-1930.



The brilliant Ms. Martin does another form of summersaults (recently in Pippin), as she morphs from Aunt to gutsy agent Frieda Fishbein and again to play Beatrice Kaufman.


We follow Hart’s upward trajectory from Catskills social director to his mentorship with Kaufman, as they work tirelessly on rewriting “Once in a Lifetime,” which Kaufman directs. Chuck Cooper takes on the roles of Max Siegel and the alcoholic actor Charles Gilpin. Moss’ hard working mother is played by Mimi Lieber.


The timbre of the play is a witty rendering, as the autobiographical story is set into motion bringing Moss Hart’s words to life in an almost three hour production. The brilliance of Shaloub and Fontana make for riveting performances, Shaloub taking on the gestures and tics of an eccentric Kaufman as Fontana delivers an exuberant performance as the young man, Moss.

Photos: Joan Marcus

Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center; 212-239-6200, Through June 15. Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes.