Tony Shalhoub to Play Moss Hart in 'Act One'

12:35 PM PST 12/08/2013 by David Rooney
Tony Shalhoub

Santino Fontana ("Frozen") and a third actor still to be cast also will stand in for the legendary writer-director in James Lapine's Broadway adaptation of Hart's classic showbiz autobiography.

NEW YORK -- Santino Fontana and Tony Shalhoub both will step into the shoes of playwright Moss Hart, one of the undisputed greats of Broadway's golden age, in the new stage adaptation of his best-selling memoir, Act One. The actors are set to play Hart at different stages of his colorful life, with a third castmember still to be announced for the role as a young boy.

Writer-director James Lapine has adapted Hart's autobiography, which was originally published in 1959 and regularly turns up on lists of the greatest first-person accounts of a life in show business ever written. The Lincoln Center Theater production will begin previews March 20 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, with opening night set for April 17.

The play will trace Hart's life from his impoverished childhood in the Bronx and Brooklyn of the early 20th century, and his path to Broadway success, forging a fruitful collaboration with fellow playwright George S. Kaufman that began with their hit Hollywood spoof, Once in a Lifetime, in 1930. 

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That team went on to spawn such evergreen American stage comedies as You Can't Take It With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner. Hart also collaborated with Edna Ferber, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, among others. His biggest hit as a Broadway director was the 1956 production of My Fair Lady, which starred Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison.

Hart also wrote screenplays, including Gentleman's Agreement, which earned him an Oscar nomination, Hans Christian Anderson and the George Cukor version of A Star is Born, with Judy Garland and James Mason. He died in 1961.

Three-time Tony winner Lapine recently directed the HBO documentary feature Six by Sondheim, which premieres Dec. 9 on the cable network. On the stage, he directed the Broadway revival of Annie and the Off Broadway musical Little Miss Sunshine, for which he wrote the book. He is best known for his collaborations as writer and director with composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim on the musicals Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods and Passion.

Fontana currently is appearing on Broadway in his Tony-nominated role as the Prince in Rodgers Hammerstein's Cinderella, and can be heard onscreen as the voice of Hans in Disney's smash animated hit Frozen. His other Broadway credits include Billy Elliot: The Musical and recent revivals of Sunday in the Park with George, Brighton Beach Memoirs and The Importance of Being Earnest.

Shalhoub last appeared on Broadway in the 2012 revival of Clifford Odets' Golden Boy. He earned Tony nominations both for that play and for Herb Gardner's Conversations With My Father in 1992. Shalhoub won three primetime Emmys as the title character in the long-running USA Network series Monk.

Additional casting for Act One is to be announced. Lapine's adaptation is unrelated to the 1963 movie version written and directed by Dore Schary, which starred George Hamilton as Hart and Jason Robards as Kaufman.

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