Streaming with Theatre-Junkie Love LCT’s Glorious Act One in Two Acts, not Three
Streaming James Lapine’s stage adaptation of Moss Hart’s memoir, Act One is a beautiful dive into a pool of true love and theatrical devotion. It’s filled to the edge with the clear blue water of the unexplainable and never-ending devotion to the creation of art on a stage, and the unbelievable imagination that is at its core. Moss Hart is the ultimate aspiring playwright at the center of this theatre junkie’s dream and it blossoms fully, requiring three actors to fulfill the task of taking us through his passionate rise to fame. In the center of his theatrical overripe heart, Act One of Act One is stuffed with piles and pages of historical exposition, leading us through Hart’s harrowing and dismal childhood, where he grew up in Bronx poverty with two parents who could not see the artist that lives inside their child. The only one that sprinkles the theatrical glitter and dust on his vivid imagination is his Aunt Kate, played lovingly by the always wonderful Andrea Martin (RTC’s Noises Off), who spends her money on cheap balcony seats, even as her sister and her family struggle to put food on the table. It’s a classic storm of misaligned upbringing, one that most who venture into the professional world of Broadway can thoroughly understand. To the credit of very brave Lapine, that well-trodden artistic road is most uniquely paved from beginning to end with genuine adoration, giving us a hero to root for, and a few authentic artists to adore.
Like almost everything in the first half of Act One (streaming now on Lincoln Center‘s YouTube channel), the characters and situations play out in a wild rotating whirl, passing from one almost stereotypical moment to the next with a speed that feels almost as noisy as what is described later on as the one fault of Hart’s play at the tail-end center of this play. As the magnificent set-piece turns through time as elegantly as one could imagine, designed with an expert eye for unique situations and never-ending movement by Beowulf Boritt (RTC’s Bernhardt/Hamlet) – for which he won the 2014 Tony Award, the series of entrances and exits that bring the charming Moss Hart to life fly by like beautiful winged creatures in a magical Times Square. Finding glory but exiting stage left before we can truly become attached, Lapine finds a way, most magically, to establish within all this chaos, a young hero’s wide-eyed love for his Aunt Kate and the gloriousness of the theatre world he so wants to live in.
It’s a bit of a wild twisty run-around as we watch the young Hart grow up tall and energized alongside his trio of loyal friends/office boys, played adoringly by Bill Army, Will Brill, and Steven Kaplan, but it’s also a little hard to stay perfectly tuned into the tale throughout Act One of Act One. That is if it were not for the stunningly engaging performance of Santino Fontana (Broadway’s Tootsie) as the young and vibrant Moss Hart (there’s also a younger and older version to, that add depth and meaning to the journey). Finding emotional connection in the sixteen years of Hart’s life in 90 short minutes, the game is on for this talented actor to keep us leaning in and on his side. The young outsider, packed into a Bronx tenement with parents who barely notice his discomfort, Moss struggles work-day-in and school-education-out against all the odds in a stinking furrier job that drains him on almost every emotional level. That is before he stumbles, almost too meet/cute sweetly, into the small-time office boy job assisting a two-bit producer of touring shows. From then on, Fontana’s Hart swirls and swings with hopeful theatrical energy that is thoroughly infectious.
It’s not long before his trial-by-fire inside his first play, The Beloved Bandit, flopping greenly and dynamically during its Rochester tryout, and the thrown-together musical revues up in the Catskills, bring him to that illustrious moment when he runs up the stairs to finalize a deal with the great Sam Harris, partner of George M. Cohan and Irving Berlin, to produce his newly crafted play, Once in a Lifetime with the leading hitmaker, George S. Kaufman, as co-author and director. It’s a moment of heart-warming joy as Hart soon after finds himself standing alone in Times Square, stunned and overwhelmed, taking it all in with an intense sense of stunned wonder, as the electric signs of the Broadway theatres drop in and shine brightly. It’s a perfect Broadway ending for the overly busy first act of Act One, but it leaves us wanting to know a whole lot more of the man who will become the famous and successful Broadway writer and director, and the play that will lead us to him.
Evoking the magical love for making theatre, Act Two of Act One is gripping and majestically funny. It is truly where the juice and the excitement of the piece finally find the earth to grow up big and strong. Within the tumultuous and seemingly impossible rendering of Once in a Lifetime’s journey from out-of-town tryouts to Broadway, Hart’s story grabs hold of an emotional drive rather than just pure exposition, building the energy scene by beautifully crafted scene. We watch with intent excitement the trials and failures of his second big play, as they endlessly try to find the fixes it needs just days before opening in New York. It finds the thrilling gas to propel itself forward, but Act One really finds its robust flavor in the artistic endeavors of the enormously talented Tony Shalhoub (Broadway’s The Band’s Visit), who brings a twinkle to his three-pronged performance that surprises even this loving fan.
As the older Hart looking back, he brings loving care to his narration, and as Hart’s father, Barnett, he turns him into something quite the opposite. The hat trick is impressive, but it is in his performance of the eccentric George S. Kaufman, the writer of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1937 play You Can’t Take It with You(alongside Moss Hart) that Shalhoub finds his true hypnotic glory, transforming himself quickly into a sharp complicated litany of oddball characteristics that give this man a transfixing glory that you can’t comprehend, nor look away from. In the autobiographical source material book, Act One, Hart portrays Kaufman as “morose and intimidating“, uncomfortable with any expressions of affection “in life or on the page.” And in that context, we can’t help but watch and be amazed as he, in one deliciously well-done scene, prepares himself to work on a script with the excited young Hart watching nervously nearby. He clears his throat, mumbling a performative masterclass of sounds and facial renderings that elevates. Then, without warning, he grabs hold of a pencil and crosses out two whole pages, laughing as he does it. We watch as closely as the confused Fontano’s Hart does, wondering and waiting with anticipation to know what all of that meant and means to their collaboration. It’s genius, and compelling, and together these two create a certain type of sensational magic and engagement that propels the whole piece to its joyous end.
The two who play Hart (as well as the young third Hart portrayed by Matthew Schechter) dazzle but one can’t dismiss the legendary Martin who not only endears us instantly with her Aunt Kate, but finds hilarity as Moss’ theatrical agent, Frieda Fishbein, as well as, with loving glamour, Beatrice Kaufman, the wife and play-whisperer to the legendary George S. Kaufman. The depth and intricate portrayals created by this genius shine majestically, as she finds tender attachment with Moss at every stage of the game, and delivers up these characters as wisely and as strongly as that first unforgettable balcony laugh. The rest of the strong cast delivers their characters forth with perfectly timed professionalism, finding unique moves at every turn of the majestic three-tiered set. Whirling around and around, the detailed creations are astonishing, as are the period costumes which are all authentically perfect down to the last silhouette by Jane Greenwood (MTC’s The Little Foxes), the spot-on lighting by Ken Billington (NYCC Encores’ The Grand Hotel), and the spectacularly voiced sound design by Dan Moses Schreier (Broadway’s Gary). It doesn’t surprise anyone who is used to the high level of creative art and design delivered by the Lincoln Center Theater but even held up against the high bar of that theatre, this production sparkles in its dynamic rotation.
Once in a Lifetime tryouts fly and fail in Atlantic City and Brighton Beach, but the energy and commitment to perfection shine on, in both Kaufman and Moss’ in and out dedication to the task, and in the Lincoln Center Theater‘s highly entertaining production. We watch with bated breath as Moss Hart stands waiting for the word on the Broadway opening of Once in a Lifetime, and we see the weight of the dream sit squarely on his back. And we join with him as energetically and excitedly as Aunt Kate’s first trip down the center aisle to watch a play in the orchestra. Lapine and company have crafted a glorious journey from an equally loving memoir, that reminds us of the love and devotion that go into creating art on a stage, and the people who labor on to make it all happen. It was a story I did not know all that well, but I’m glad to have been invited to stand alongside these great craftsmen and hear this slice of Broadway history. It’s not perfection, but it is filled to the brim with a whole lot of love for this crazy thing we call theatre. It possesses that unexplainable magical energy that I am missing so much during these crazy COVID19 times, and I can’t wait to once again take in a bit of that theatrical essence once again from pretty much any seat in that house I so love.
And don’t forget to donate to the Lincoln Center Theater or a theatre company near you that you love. They need all the help we can give them, especially now, as we peer out thewindow like Radcliffe’s Clov in The Old Vic’s Endgame, wondering if it is safe to go outside once again. I just wish I got to see LCT’s The Nance, as that is one show I’ve never seen and have always wanted to. Let’s hope it gets rescheduled soon on LCT’s YouTube channel.
For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com
Ken Fallin’s Broadway: A Dolls House: Arian Moayed and Jessica Chastain
I went with T2C’s editor to A Dolls House, which inspired this caricature. You can read Suzanna’s review of the show here.
T2C Sends Our Prayers to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lea Michele
Saturday, March 25, 2023
A Statement From Andrew Lloyd Webber
I am shattered to have to announce that my beloved elder son Nick died a few hours ago in Basingstoke Hospital. His whole family is gathered together and we are all totally bereft.
Thank you for all your thoughts during this difficult time.
The 75-year-old Oscar-winning composer son Nicholas followed in his father’s footsteps and was a successful composer in his own right, having written Fat Friends The Musical. He was married to musician Polly Wiltshire, who appeared on the soundtrack of his father’s 2019 movie Cats.
During his career, Nicholas also scored music for an adaption of The Little Prince as well as composing numerous TV and film scores, including for the BBC1 drama Loves, Lies, and Records.
Nicholas previously spoke about making his own way in the theatre world away from his famous family name in a 2011 unearthed interview.
He said he wanted to be ‘judged on his own merits’ so dropped his surname when working to see what the reaction would be.
Our hearts and prayers go out to his family.
Also on Saturday Lea Michele updated her fans on the status of her two-year-old’s health via her Instagram after he was hospitalized earlier this week. Her son Ever was in the hospital, but is now out due to a ‘scary health issue. She posted a picture backstage in her dressing room ahead of her Broadway performance in Funny Girl. Lea had been out to focus on her family.
“I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for just so much love and support this week. I really really appreciated it”.
Parade: A Musical That Asks Us Do We Have The Eyes And Ears To See.
Micaela Diamond and Ben Platt Photo by Joan Marcus
I have always loved Jason Robert Brown’s score for Parade. “You Don’t Know This Man,” “This Is Not Over Yet” and the wonderfully romantic “All the Wasted Time” are just the tip of the iceberg for music that stirs your soul and tells a tale of heartbreak. There is a reason this score won the Tony Award in 1999.
The musical now playing on Broadway dramatizes the 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank (Ben Platt), who was accused and convicted of raping and murdering a thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan (Erin Rose Doyle). The trial was sensationalized by the media, newspaper reporter Britt Craig (Jay Armstrong Johnson) and Tom Watson (Manoel Feliciano), an extremist right-wing newspaper aroused antisemitic tensions in Atlanta and the U.S. state of Georgia. When Frank’s death sentence is commuted to life in prison thanks to his wife Lucille (Micaela Diamond), Leo was transferred to a prison in Milledgeville, Georgia, where a lynching party seized and kidnapped him. Frank was taken to Phagan’s hometown of Marietta, Georgia, and he was hanged from an oak tree.
The telling of this horrid true tale begins with the lush ode to the South in “The Old Red Hills of Home.” Leo has just moved from Brooklyn to in Marietta, where his wife is from and he has been given the job as as a manager at the National Pencil Co. He feels out of place as he sings “I thought that Jews were Jews, but I was wrong!” On Confederate Memorial Day as Lucille plans a picnic, Leo goes to work. In the meantime Mary goes to collect her pay from the pencil factory. The next day Leo is arrested on suspicion of killing Mary, whose body is found in the building. The police also suspect Newt Lee (Eddie Cooper), the African-American night watchman who discovered the body, but he inadvertently directs Starnes’ suspicion to Leo.
Across town, reporter Britt Craig see this story as (“Big News”). Mary’s suitor Frankie Epps (Jake Pederson), swears revenge on Mary’s killer, as does the reporter Watson. Governor John Slaton (Sean Allan Krill) pressures the local prosecutor Hugh Dorsey (the terrific smarmy Paul Alexander Nolan) to get to the bottom of the whole affair. Dorsey, an ambitious politician sees Leo as he ticket to being the Governor and though there are other suspects, he willfully ignores them and goes after Leo.
The trial of Leo Frank is presided over by Judge Roan (Howard McMillan). A series of witnesses, give trumped up evidence which was clearly is fed to them by Dorsey. Frankie testifies, falsely, that Mary said Leo “looks at her funny.” Her three teenage co-workers, Lola, Essie and Monteen (Sophia Manicone, Emily Rose DeMartino, Ashlyn Maddox), collaborate hauntingly as they harmonize their testimony (“The Factory Girls”). In a fantasy sequence, Leo becomes the lecherous seducer (“Come Up to My Office”). Testimony is heard from Mary’s mother (Kelli Barrett ) (“My Child Will Forgive Me”) and Minnie McKnight (Danielle Lee Greaves)before the prosecution’s star witness, Jim Conley (Alex Joseph Grayson ), takes the stand. He claims that he witnessed the murder and helped Leo conceal the crime (“That’s What He Said”). Leo is given the opportunity to deliver a statement (“It’s Hard to Speak My Heart”), but it is not enough. He is found guilty and sentenced to hang. The crowd breaks out into a jubilant circus.
Act 1, is not as strong as it should have been. I have attended three different incarnations, the last being with Jeremy Jordan as Leo and Joshua Henry as Jim in 2015. Part of the problem is Michael Arden’s direction. Instead of allowing his performers to act, he has them pantomime, as the solo goes forth. “Come Up to My Office” was not as haunting as in past productions. The same can be said of “That’s What He Said”. Who’s stands out in the first act is Jake Pederson as Frankie and Charlie Webb as the Young Soldier who sings “The Old Red Hills of Home.”
In Act 2, Lucille finds Governor Slaton at a party (the hypnotic “Pretty Music” sung wonderfully by Krill) and advocates for Leo. Watson approaches Dorsey and tells him he will support his bid for governor, as Judge Roan also offers his support. The governor agrees to re-open the case, as Leo and Lucille find hope. Slaton realizes what we all knew that the witnesses were coerced and lied and that Dorsey is at the helm. He agrees to commute Leo’s sentence to life in prison in Milledgeville, Georgia, which ends his political career. The citizens of Marietta, led by Dorsey and Watson, are enraged and riot. Leo is transferred to a prison work-farm. Lucille visits, and he realizes his deep love for his wife and how much he has underestimated her (“All the Wasted Time”). With hope in full blaze Lucille leaves as a party masked men kidnap Leo and take him to Marietta. They demand he confess and hang him from an oak tree.
In Act Two Parade comes together with heart and soul. Diamond, who shines brightly through out the piece is radiant, and her duets with Platt are romantic and devastating. Platt comes into his own and his huge following is thrilled to be seeing him live. Alex Joseph Grayson’s also nails his Second Act songs.
Dane Laffrey’s set works well with the lighting by Heather Gilbert.
Frank’s case was reopened in 2019 and is still ongoing.
Parade has multiple messages and the question is will audiences absorb it. I am so glad this show is on Broadway, making us think and see. This is a must see.
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Parade: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W 45th Street.