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  Act One at Lincoln Center

Act One

Lincoln Center
150 West 65th Street New York

Chronicles the playwright/director's impoverished childhood and his determined struggle to escape poverty and forge a career in the theater which led to his collaboration with George S. Kaufman and their first great success, Once In A Lifetime.

Thru - Jun 15, 2014

Tuesdays: 8:00pm
Wednesdays: 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Thursdays: 8:00pm
Fridays: 8:00pm
Saturdays: 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sundays: 3:00pm

Lincoln Center Seating Chart

  Act One Reviews
  • Highly Recommended
  • Recommended
  • Somewhat Recommended
  • Not Recommended

The New York Times - Recommended

"... ¦ warmly adapted by James Lapine...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 ¦ Multiple casting of this kind is tricky. But here you never doubt that the child and the person in his 20s are the fathers of the man who's telling us the story ¦ Mr. Lapine has telescoped the book's events with honorable efficiency ¦ But with a variable supporting cast, these scenes can also feel crudely cartoonish ¦ In any case ¦ to watch Mr. Fontana's Hart sharing the labor pains of creation with Mr. Shalhoub's Kaufman is to witness this season's most electric onstage chemistry."
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Ben Brantley

NY Daily News - Somewhat Recommended

"...The new Moss Hart bioplay, Act One,  is affectionate, handsome and overstuffed ¦ A narrator is a typically creaky device and this show uses two ¦ The superior first half packs a lot of heart ¦ The play's long-winded second act sags ¦ The odd-couple dynamic between the writers is fun, but watching scribes in action isn't exactly dynamic ¦ Even though Act One  could use pruning, there's something missing: It never reveals what made Hart special."
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Joe Dziemianowicz

Associated Press - Highly Recommended

"......a rollicking play ¦ James Lapine has adapted and directed the play, using the stage thrillingly in a way the book could not ¦ in its very fiber and execution, it's a celebration of the theater itself ¦ The second act ¦ goes down better than a slightly sluggish first, which is necessarily weighed down by background ¦ Fontana brings his huge charm and energy, his excitement at having a life in the theater infectious ¦ Lapine manages to keep all these moving pieces going at a healthy clip while also adding what was missing from the book ¦ But audience-members who haven't read the book may be puzzled by some things ¦ And those who have read the book will feel cheated they never got to see the elaborate and hyped set for the nightclub Pigeon's Egg ¦ But this is a good play that does his life justice."
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Mark Kennedy

Hollywood Reporter - Not Recommended

"...Beowulf Boritt's ingenious set for Act One is a multi-story marvel ¦ But 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 ¦ was probably an impossible task. However, that doesn't soften the arduousness of sitting through writer-director James Lapine's botched attempt at it ¦ this retelling is lifeless “ an insipid dose of theatrical nostalgia lacking in thematic weight or genuine feeling. At close to three hours, it's also bloated for no good reason ¦ Fontana (the voice of Hans in Disney's Frozen), as always, has an appealing stage presence, but his characterization is entirely generic ¦ 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 ¦ The closest Lapine comes to finding some heart in the material is in the gradual bonding of these two..."
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David Rooney

Vulture - Somewhat Recommended

"...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 ¦ this format of narration and illustration ¦ is the opposite of dramatic; it's formal and repetitive like a pop-up book ¦ 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 ¦ The compulsive Kaufman ¦ is beautifully sketched by Shalhoub ¦ Perhaps Lapine, who also directs the production, has been too loyal to the book, preserving more of its beloved anecdotes than he could satisfyingly shape ¦ Fontana, who carries most of the load of portraying Hart, is too attractive an actor to suggest on his own, with no textual support, the man's twisted self-doubt and manias ¦ Act One is still a love letter to the theater: I smiled through most of it. But it's a love letter written in disappearing ink."
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Jesse Green

USA Today - Recommended

"...The new Broadway production is rather an appreciation, most notable for its deep affection and almost deferential reverence ¦ Lapine captures that essence and the period, on the page and on the stage ¦ Fontana has brought a vigorous, probing humanity to a number of characters, and he gives Moss the right mix of earnest intelligence and restless ambition ¦ Shalhoub is excellent in all three roles, and especially entertaining and touching in the third, milking Kaufman's eccentricities for full effect ¦ If Lapine's Act One lacks the tension necessary for great drama, comedic or otherwise, he and his company manage to make that passion infectious."
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Elysa Gardner

New York Post - Somewhat Recommended

"...The problem is that this Lincoln Center Theater production is probably better for those who haven't read the book. Fans, on the other hand, may want to throw their well-thumbed copies at James Lapine, who adapted and directed this show. That is, if they're still awake. You can't fault the likable cast ¦ But splitting the part creates unnecessary distractions ¦ [Shaloub'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 ¦ All this multitasking reflects the show's busy fussiness and lack of focus ¦ But the worst part is that Lapine misses out on the book's heart ¦ If you think watching paint dry is boring, try watching two men edit a long-forgotten play."
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Elisabeth Vincentelli

Entertainment Weekly - Recommended

"......a drama-centered story is no guarantee of a dramatic story a fact that's made abundantly clear in a lovingly presented but largely listless 2 hours and 40 minute span at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Lapine has chosen an unnecessarily cumbersome two-narrator approach ¦ [Shaloub] is so quirkily charming as Kaufman and such a good match for Fontana as his high-strung extroverted writing partner that it's almost a letdown when he morphs back into Moss ¦ the irony is inescapable: How can Act One a show that spends so much time dissecting and trying to perfect another show be so unaware of its own imperfections? As a producer (Bob Stillman) astutely remarks of Lifetime, ''It's a tiring play for the audience to sit through.'' Indeed."
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Melissa Rose Bernardo

Newsday - Somewhat Recommended

"... ¦ one 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 ¦ Lapine seldom captures the urgency in the storytelling here. The big cast is adept but scattered, with most actors playing two and three finely-drawn but overly familiar types. Life brightens, however, whenever Martin buzzes through ¦ Fontana has a compelling earnest energy as Hart as the young artist. His budding relationship with the veteran Kaufman, which flourishes in the second act, is the most beguiling part of this problematic play obsessed with the fixing of a troubled play. Shaloub, a marvelous character actor, finds a way to find comedy in another seriously-disturbed man ¦ What will be remembered from this memory play, however, is Beowulf Boritt's splendid, cunning turntable set ¦ If only the story could spin like that."
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Linda Winer

Wall Street Journal - Highly Recommended

"......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 ¦ None of this would matter were it not for the unerring skill with which Mr. Lapine has condensed and compressed Mr. Hart's 444-page book, staying faithful to its spirit while simultaneously solving the daunting problem of turning a memoir into a play ¦ Andrea Martin making an especially bold impression ¦ Mr. Fontana, who sticks to the single role of the young Moss Hart, is at once earnest and appealing, while Mr. Shalhoub ¦ serves the play, not himself ¦ Is it sentimental? Sure, but sometimes life turns out just like that. "Act One" gives you something real to cry and cheer about and so you will."
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Terry Teachout

Washington Post - Recommended

"... ¦[an] endearing new stage adaptation... though Lapine's overlong script could use some editing, and some of the myriad supporting performances feel under-realized, his Act One" remains a warm and stimulating summation of the romance of the theater and the satisfactions of pleasing an audience ¦ the production offers other pleasures, most especially in the commanding turns of Santino Fontana and Tony Shalhoub ¦ Even if at some junctures Act One  has you momentarily contemplating the benefits of jumping off, by evening's end you're happy to have invested the time in this rewarding Broadway merry-go-round."
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Peter Marks

Chicago Tribune - Not Recommended

"... ¦[a] long, laborious and, well, hackneyed, Lincoln Center adaptation ¦ Part of the problem here lies with Lapine's self-directed adaptation which, although understandably faithful to its justly beloved source, does not theatricalize it sufficiently ¦ [Playing multiple roles] turns out to be too much of a burden for Shalhoub, who is delightfully droll as the brilliantly neurotic Kaufman (it's a beautifully admiring bit of acting and great fun to watch) but much less secure as the narrator and as the elder Hart ¦ Fontana is fine and boyishly charming as far as that all (and he) goes, but you're still left with the sense that the storytelling device has not been cracked ¦ There are, within the company, some broad but entertaining performances..."
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Chris Jones

NBC New York - Somewhat Recommended

"... ¦audiences unfamiliar with Moss Hart's legacy may have a hard time understanding his importance after watching James Lapine's flat adaptation ¦ Act One  is a bland story that fails to put Hart's life into perspective ¦ our narrators often tell us more about our character's emotions than we get to see and feel. This especially becomes evident in the show's problematic first act, which breezes over key moments in Hart's life for the sake of moving the story along ¦ The timeline slows down considerably in the second act, and in turn, that's where Act One  begins to draw you in ¦ These scenes [between Kaufman and Hart] are filled with moments of tension and vulnerability ¦ but you may find yourself wondering what took Lapine so long to get to the good stuff. You won't find yourself bored by Beowulf Boritt's stunning circular set ¦ It's a perfect metaphor for life, even if the play itself is lacking that depth. Likeable performances will also keep you engaged throughout. Santino Fontana gives Hart a lightness and charm that's impossible to root against. Shalhoub and Martin are great in their various roles, bringing uniqueness and distinction to their characters ¦"
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Dave Quinn

Time Out New York - Recommended

"......quite faithful and wrought with abundant skill and empathy ¦ Less smoothly transferred from page to stage is Hart's narrative tone ¦ But ¦ 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. Beowulf Boritt's massive, tri-level rotating set is a wonder to behold ¦ While Lapine has succeeded in condensing a massive tome and fluidly orchestrating sequences involving his 22-member cast, the evening is not without flaws. The second act drags ¦ Still, quibbles aside, Act One is tremendous fun, sweet and wise-wistful, brimful of sparkling performances and insight into the joys and terrors of show business."
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David Cote

The Wrap - Somewhat Recommended

" the first act, the numerous scenes fly by, sometimes literally on that revolving set, with no room for the audience to breathe ¦ Lapine and Fontana convey none of this youthful angst ¦ Lapine is better with the personal, poverty side of Hart's life ¦ the lack of drama generated on stage about the fate of Once in a Lifetime  constitutes a major disappointment ¦ Almost all of Lapine's actors play multiple roles. They're in and out of so many disguises so quickly it's hard to judge some of the performances ¦ Watching Shalhoub's many physical transformations is one of the production's greatest pleasures and its major element of suspense, since the costume changes are super-fast."
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Robert Hofler

Los Angeles Times - Recommended

"......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 ¦ 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 ¦ the story whirls about in a rapid succession of scenes that could desperately use another round of editing ¦ But there are rewards to the production ¦ All three [Moss actors] are terrific, but Shalhoub... is outstanding. Much of the rest of the cast, not granted the luxury of time in the storytelling swirl, is reduced to broad strokes ¦ What is most memorably re-created is the bond between Shalhoub's Kaufman and Fontana's Hart..."
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Charles McNulty

New Jersey Newsroom - Somewhat Recommended

"......Act One  is the bitterest disappointment of the Broadway season ¦ Hart's colorful, episodic story rarely flickers to life onstage, unfortunately, in spite of the best efforts of a good 22-member company and expert designers. Diffuse with many characters, Lapine's dramatization often is cumbersome with exposition and not always true to the autobiography's events, characters and tone. Virtually every actor smoothly doubles and triple in their roles in Lapine's production ¦ but somehow never gets to anywhere satisfying."
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Michael Sommers

Talkin Broadway - Recommended

"......if you're not likely to learn a great deal from this exceedingly safe're also guaranteed an evening that's as genial and likable as it is averse to insight or innovation ¦ the story seldom screams for the splashy treatment it's received here ¦ Lapine's writing leaves you little chance to breathe, and his staging makes dizzying use of Beowulf Boritt's constantly moving, turntable-mounted unit set ¦ That Kaufman is constructed and played (by Shalhoub) very cartoonishly ¦ without much deeper shading, enormous chunks of time pass with either few or no words being spoken ¦ Fontana, who's been good for years and just keeps getting better, is delightful as the most major Moss ¦ It's difficult not to wish that Lapine had subjected the script to the same rigorous fat-cutting that his version of Kaufman insists upon ¦ but if a story must be this robotically familiar, you could do worse than to have too much of Hart's good thing."
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Matthew Murray

TheaterMania - Recommended

"......Lapine's adaptation handily wrangles this Broadway Odyssey into two fluid acts that maintain the original text's humor and hearty sentimentality ¦ Fontana beautifully captures the portrait of a dreamy, energetic young man ¦ Act two of Act One, however, may not be for the theatrical faint of heart. The second half of the play focuses exclusively on Kaufman and Hart's process of writing ¦and rewriting ¦.and rewriting ¦ Unfortunately for us, this means a heaping spoonful of tedium that we must endure until we are finally rewarded with the fairy-tale ending we've been waiting to see."
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Hayley Levitt - Recommended

"...Nearly every element of this play promises sparkling entertainment ¦ but somehow Act One  doesn't even begin to deliver on that promise until, ironically, Act II ¦ The scenes between Hart and Kaufman as they try to hammer out the script offer a liveliness and a lightness that are the most rewarding parts of the play. There is plenty here to keep your attention ¦ Yes, there are some obvious missteps ¦ But many of the scenes are more or less faithful re-creations of moments in the memoir. On page, they are moving or amusing or otherwise delightful. And yet on stage, they seem mostly ¦ informative... The best thing to say about Act One  the play is that it will remind those who have read Act One  the memoir just how charming it is, and it will inspire theatergoers who have not read it to get hold of that wonderful book."
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Jonathan Mandell

Theater News Online - Recommended

"......Lapine's overly episodic and overlong (two-hour-and-40-minute) treatment of this ultimate showbiz story is surprisingly bloodless ¦ the show's movement is provided less by the rambling plot than by Beowulf Boritt's stunning, revolving, three-tiered set ¦ For the most part, though, Act One is watchable enough, especially when the formidable, chameleonic Shalhoub is on stage ¦ And the play comes most vividly to life during the all-too-brief appearances of the brilliant Andrea Martin ¦ theatergoers deserve a better reason for spending their time and money on this play “ especially when they can stay home in their comfy chair and simply read Hart's own book."
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Brian Lipton

Broadway World - Recommended

"......Lapine's stage adaptation is appropriately thick with the kind of sentiment that warms the heart ¦ The episodic nature of the play works better as a love letter than as a drama, but Lapine's direction is a visual treat played with rich humor and affection by a terrific cast ¦ the story really picks up in the second half ¦ Shaloub is hilariously exacting as the fastidious Kaufman..."
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Michael Dale