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BWW Review: ACT ONE An Epic Theatre Tale Beautifully Told

BWW Review: ACT ONE An Epic Theatre Tale Beautifully Told

ACT ONE is the story of famed playwright-director Moss Hart, from his poor Bronx beginnings to his first Broadway hit Once in a Lifetime. Hart's autobiography, considered by many to be the best book ever written about show business, has been stylishly adapted for the stage by James Lapine, Tony Award winning writer and director of Sondheim on Sondheim, Into The Woods and Falsettos, among others. Lapine has done a beautiful job translating Hart's sprawling book into a taut and entertaining evening of theatre...that is all about the theatre. This stage work has a great big heart and is ultimately funny, informative and touching. ACT ONE premiered on Broadway in 2014.

ACT ONE is the backstage story of an underprivileged, stage-struck Jewish kid from the Bronx named Moss Hart (played by three actors; Javier Garcia, Louis Lor and Matt Hernandez, all playing him at different ages) who works his way from office boy in a second string touring producer's office to a legendary writing partnership, at age 25, with the considerably older and famously eccentric Broadway legend George S. Kaufman (Matt Hernandez). Hart had always dreamed of being part of the magical world of show busines. The play recounts his life with his immigrant family, from dropping out of school to eventually becoming the toast of the town. The story shows that you can escape from places where you don't feel like you belong by following your passion. It tells you that, regardless of ridicule by frends and family, that with hard work, luck, and stamina, you can create a career doing what you love. However modest or traumatic your beginnings, you can find your bliss.

Director Joshua O'Daniel Denning has done a wonderful job with this sprawling work. It is tremendously entertaining and touching and major kudos must be extended for giving these young performers such juicy material to stretch them. This Fine Arts Academy has tackled a show that few professional companies in this town could even touch. Also, I applaud him for using two pianists, on stage, to recreate the original music by Louis Rosen that was used in the Broadway production. The staging, on the dazzling two story set, by Technical Director Laura Kieler, moves from locale to locale with ease and style. The lighting design by Sarah Kay Stephens is near perfect. The costume designs, by Skel Gracie, were all period perfect. I do have one quibble, the major gaffe of mistaking the sex of historical figure of Dore Schary. Schary went on from his office boy beginnings to be a major studio figure in Hollywood. Sorry, he wasn't a woman. Also, some of the scene changes were a bit noisy, drowning out the actors delivering important monologues downstage. This should, however, work itself out after opening night.

The young cast does a great job, and there are a few performances that deserve special mention. Matt Hernandez does a terrific job with the character of Kaufman, believably nailing his many ticks and peculiarities. Javier Garcia is a charming protagonist, and gives an engaging performance. He does need to slow down, however, because he, at times, speaks so fast that entire lines are lost. Joilynn Green delivers multiple characters with a bearing and maturity of delivery that belies her age. Magnus Bohls does a nice job with the office boy Eddie and has a very natural style and delivery. Stadia Cole delivers a funny Freida Fishbein and has a nice sense of comedy timing, knowing how to get the laughs out of this great character.

In all, I was greatly amused and moved at all the right moments by this solid production. McCallum Fine Arts Academy may be High School Theatre, but it is not your average High School theatre. McCallum challenges the young artists of today on their journey to becoming the theatre professionals of tomorrow... and Austin is all the richer for this valued institution.

ACT ONE by James Lapine, based on the book by Moss Hart

Running Time: Two Hours and Thirty Minutes, including intermission

ACT ONE, produced by McCallum Fine Arts Academy, in the Fine Arts Building Theatre (5600 Sunshine Drive, Austin, TX 78756 )

November 09 - November 12, 2017
Thursday - Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets may be purchased at
Student tickets are $7; adults are $16, and seniors are $12. Add $2 for tickets purchased at the door, except at the student rate. Group rates for groups of 10 or more receive a 10% discount for online purchases.

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