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Review Roundup: ACT ONE Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

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Review Roundup: ACT ONE Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

The Lincoln Center Theater (under the direction of Producing Artistic Director André Bishop) production of Act One, a play written and directed by James Lapine from the autobiography by Moss Hart, opens tonight, April 17, at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre.

The cast features Bob Ari, 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 Schechter, Tony Shalhoub, Jonathan Spivey, Wendy Rich Stetson, Bob Stillman and Amy Warren.

ACT ONE, James Lapine's new play from the classic autobiography by Moss Hart, eloquently chronicles the playwright/director's impoverished childhood and his determined struggle to escape poverty and forge a career in the theater. The company of twenty-two actors plays multiple roles with Tony Shalhoub, Santino Fontana and Matthew Schechter playing Moss Hart at different stages of his life.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Since Hart is the heart of "Act One," which has been warmly adapted by James Lapine from Hart's 1959 memoir of the same title, Mr. Shalhoub and Mr. Fontana's shimmering performances are reason enough to celebrate -- and to heave a sigh of relief. If the lively but overblown production that surrounds them isn't always up to their high standards, I'm still not grousing...That's because whatever its flaws, "Act One," which Mr. Lapine also directed, brims contagiously with the ineffable, irrational and irrefutable passion for that endangered religion called the Theater..."Act One" critically reminds us, at a moment when it's easy to forget, of why so many of us fell head over heels for this cockamamie faith to begin with.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: It makes perfect sense that his autobiography is onstage. And no less a modern theater icon than James Lapine has adapted and directed the play, using the stage thrillingly in a way the book could not. The sweet "Act One," which opened Thursday at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, faithfully and chronologically charts Hart's rise from poverty in the Bronx to co-writing with Kaufman "Once In a Lifetime" in 1930, his first Broadway hit. But it's of course more than that: The majority of the 22 actors play multiple parts, jumping in and out of characters and costumes while the bold, complex set by Beowulf Boritt spins and spins. So in its very fiber and execution, it's a celebration of the theater itself.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: The result is a thrillingly well-staged play that runs for two hours and 40 minutes but feels much shorter. Not only is "Act One" light on its theatrical feet, but it has the open-hearted impact of a melodrama -- one that has the advantage of being true. Part of what makes "Act One" so potent is that Mr. Lapine disdains all irony in describing Mr. Hart's rise to fame. His was an old-fashioned American-dream-come-true tale, and it doesn't embarrass Mr. Lapine in the least to dish it up on a pageantlike scale reminiscent of the spectacular stage version of "Nicholas Nickleby."

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: ...it's problematic in a work fundamentally about the magic of the theater that all the magic is confined to the design department. Condensing into play form Moss Hart's 1959 autobiography -- a peach among American theater memoirs -- was probably an impossible task. However, that doesn't soften the arduousness of sitting through writer-director James Lapine's botched attempt at it...Fontana...as always, has an appealing stage presence, but his characterization is entirely generic -- a driven, likable young man whose commitment to succeed strengthens with each acrid taste of failure. While the multitasking Shalhoub is given little to do as the older Moss and his father, he mines welcome humor out of his portrayal of the fastidious, soft-spoken George, even if too much of the performance is about the celebrated playwright's OCD neuroses. The closest Lapine comes to finding some heart in the material is in the gradual bonding of these two -- the wide-eyed novice and the world-weary Broadway eminence.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Moss Hart has a lot to answer for. Just think how many future brain surgeons and rocket scientists were lost, lured to Gotham to pursue a theater career after reading "Act One," the eminent Broadway playwright-director's captivating 1959 showbiz autobiography. Still, Hart can't be blamed for the missteps of playwright-director James Lapine in adapting that seminal book. Having learned the tricks of the trade from the great George S. Kaufman, Hart would surely have taken a scalpel to this verbose, unwieldy, overacted production -- but kept the spotlight on winning star turns by Santino Fontana and Tony Shalhoub.

Linda Winer, Newsday: So much love and care and ambition have been poured into "Act One," playwright/director James Lapine's sprawling stage adaptation of playwright/director Moss Hart's celebrated 1959 memoir. But as the Lincoln Center Theater's in-house magazine reminds us, Hart himself wrote, "Playwrighting is not a gentle or sentimental profession, nor, may I add, is any part or portion of the theater." Putting gentleness aside, one therefore must report that this play about the theater has a dazzling theatrical set but a dispiriting lack of drama. Autobiographical peaks and valleys that read with such charm and intensity in Hart's words are translated here into almost three hours of busy, flatline narrative.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Lapine's Act One (* * * out of four stars), which opened Thursday at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre, doesn't match the inspired zaniness that was Hart's ideal and trademark -- but its creator doesn't seem to be going for that. The new Broadway production is rather an appreciation, most notable for its deep affection and almost deferential reverence. To say the play lacks the complex poignance of the Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods librettist's best work wouldn't be fair; however wry Hart's humor or complicated his relationships -- with show business, his family, other people -- his Act One is a nostalgic and ultimately upbeat reflection on fulfilling a dream.

David Cote, Time Out NY: In its trajectory and most memorable scenes and players, Lapine's stage adaptation of Hart's sprawling tale -- part rags-to-riches fable, part showbiz fantasy, part professional handbook -- is quite faithful and wrought with abundant skill and empathy...Less smoothly transferred from page to stage is Hart's narrative tone...But Lapine's Act One is a play, not an audiobook or TV miniseries. If this adaptation included considerably more narration, it would invite complaints of too much telling, not enough showing. So credit is due to Lapine for efffectively distilling a fast-moving memory play...Lapine has a superb cast at his disposal -- the thoroughly charming Fontana, the drolly tetchy and bilious Shalhoub, and, in a few crucial, nurturing mother-figure roles, the grace-filled Andrea Martin.

Dave Quinn, NBC New York: Audiences unfamiliar with Moss Hart's legacy may have a hard time understanding his importance after watching James Lapine's flat adaptation of "Act One" that just opened at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater. Instead of an inspiring account of talent and tenacity, Lapine's "Act One" is a bland story that fails to put Hart's life into perspective...Lapine, who both wrote and directed "Act One," constructs the story of the show in a linear fashion, narrated by an older version of Hart (Tony Shalhoub, "Golden Boy," in one of three roles he plays) and a twentysomething version of Hart (Santino Fontana, "Cinderella"). The problem with that device is that our narrators often tell us more about our character's emotions than we get to see and feel.

Jesse Green, Vulture: Unfortunately, the production that has actually resulted will likely satisfy neither the acolytes nor the cynics. Act One, the play, is too mild for the former and too credulous for me. Which is not to say it has no charms; charm is nearly all it has. Dozens of scenes, mostly the same length, paint pretty pictures of Hart's life...But this format of narration and illustration, enabled by Beowulf Boritt's gigantic revolving three-story set, is the opposite of dramatic; it's formal and repetitive like a pop-up book, about the last thing you want from Hart's you-go-kid story. The actors strain to connect, but it isn't until near the end of the long evening that any of them are given enough playable conflict to swing at.

Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: But there's a fundamental problem in bringing "Act One" to the stage: The episodic story isn't structured as a drama. There's tension but little suspense. Anyone who knows the vaguest thing about Hart will know that he became one of the 20th century's major Broadway figures...on stage this roller coaster journey, unable to induce butterflies of excitement, seems unduly repetitive. The book hasn't been distilled into a workable dramatic form...But there are rewards to the production. Three actors play Moss Hart: Matthew Schechter is young Hart, Tony Shalhoub is the older Hart looking back, and Santino Fontana is the anxious, eager-beaver acolyte Hart determined to conquer the Great White Way. All three are terrific, but Shalhoub, who also plays Hart's father as well as a highly neurotic George S. Kaufman (who has some of the same compulsive tendencies as Shalhoub's TV character Monk) is outstanding.

Peter Marks, The Washington Post: As "Act One" would have it, no love is quite so intense and tempestuous as that between a playwright and his play. In fact, in the endearing new stage adaptation of Moss Hart's memoir--long a theater world bible--any other affection revealed over the course of two and three-quarter hours in the Vivian Beaumont Theater is a pallid affair compared to the fervor of the dramatist savoring and agonizing over the reactions to his first Broadway play...And though Lapine's overlong script could use some editing, and some of the myriad supporting performances feel under-realized, his "Act One," which opened Thursday night, remains a warm and stimulating summation of the romance of the theater and the satisfactions of pleasing an audience.

Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: Watching James Lapine's long, laborious and, well, hackneyed, Lincoln Center adaptation of Hart's book, you are constantly struck by the notion that Hart himself, had he been a creative consultant on the project, would have been leaping out of his seat, ready to cut some of his own scenes (plenty!), rewrite others and restage almost everything, being a fellow who understood the difference between autobiography and a work for the theater, between life and carefully constructed artifice. He knew the dance around the archetype without its actual embrace, the revelation of joy and the sorrow that cuts the treacle. And he would, I think, have been pushing for many more truths along with many more laughs.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: In the book "Act One," as well as its stage adaptation, the producer of "Once in a Lifetime" tells the very young Hart that he's written a good but "noisy" play...The Lincoln Center Theater production of "Act One" boasts 22 actors, most of them playing multiple roles, and there's a constantly revolving set of three tiers that features more than a dozen locales ranging from rooftops to stoops to alleys to theaters to offices to restaurants to speakeasies. Designed by Beowulf Boritt, this cityscape makes the original set for "Sweeney Todd" at the old Uris Theater look like a kids' jungle gym...The producer in Hart's book wasn't sure about the word "noisy." Regarding Lapine's "Act One," the word "fast" is closer to the mark...Shalhoub also does triple duty, playing not only the mature Hart and Hart's father but Kaufman, as well. Watching Shalhoub's many physical transformations is one of the production's greatest pleasures and its major element of suspense...

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Even though "Act One" could use pruning, there's something missing: It never reveals what made Hart special. Story structure? Colorful characters? Snappy dialogue? The basic fact should be the starting point, but it's missing in action here.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: You can't fault the likable cast, led by Santino Fontana ("Cinderella") as the young Hart, while Tony Shalhoub plays him as a middle-aged man reflecting back on his adventures. But splitting the part creates unnecessary distractions, especially since Shalhoub also plays Hart's father and his co-writer. He's highly amusing as the kooky, nitpicking Kaufman, but this doesn't take us far. And the invaluable Andrea Martin is underused despite handling three (small) roles, including Hart's eccentric, stage-crazed Aunt Kate.

Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: Moss Hart's autobiography "Act One" was big news in 1959. But are people interested in a man whose fame on Broadway happened well over a half-century ago? If they're not, it's hard to see what they'll find to savor - other than a delightful performance by Tony Shalhoub - in James Lapine's stage adaptation of the book, which opened Thursday night at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.

Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly: To paraphrase Moss Hart, it's a brave writer who would contrive this show: Japes Lapine's adaptation of Act One, playwright-director Hart's best-selling 1959 autobiography that's become an object of inspiration/adoration for anyone seeking a career in front of-or behind-the footlights. (Ask any actor, playwright, director, or designer you know if they've read Act One. If they haven't, give them a copy.) And it's fitting that Lapine would be the one to transfer this ultimate showbiz story from page to the Lincoln Theater Center's Broadway stage. Like Hart, Lapine is both a playwright-he penned the libretti forFalsettos and Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods, and Passion-and director, helming a variety of shows from those musicals to a revival of The Diary of Anne Frank.

David Finkle, Huffington Post: When theater veteran Moss Hart published his bestselling Act One in 1959, he packed a lot into it about his impoverished childhood and neophyte playwriting years with the already famous, successful and legendarily acerbic George S. Kaufman. James Lapine, who's adapted the chockfull memoir at the Vivian Beaumont, packs just as much into it--and what can seem like even more--on Beowulf Boritt's magnificent three-story revolving set.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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