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What is Piedmont Players Theatre’s new play about?

By Josh Wainright, PPT Marketing Director

PPT’s newest play, opening next Thursday at the Meroney Theater, is James Lapine’s adaption of Moss Hart’s autobiography “Act One.” The play traces his life from being poor in The Bronx to becoming famous and successful as a Broadway writer and director only after partnering with Broadway legend George S. Kaufman.

The original stage production officially opened on Broadway April 17, 2014 and starred Santino Fontana, Tony Shalhoub and Andrea Martin and received nominations for five Tony Awards.

PPT’s talented cast including long-time favorites Gary Thornburg and Austin Young partnering as Kaufman and Hart, skillfully juggles multiple parts while depicting Hart’s life and the eventual collaboration with Kaufman. Not only do most of the actors play multiple characters but multiple actors also play the same character at different points in time.

The strong supporting cast of PPT veterans includes Eve Philips (Welcome To Mitford), Tony Moore (Lombardi) and Joe Cornacchione and Tanner Groppi (Peter and the Starcatcher) and new faces including Marc Anderson, Jon Leach and Lesi Jonap, the wife of PPT’s very own Atticus Finch.

The PPT set, designed by Reid Leonard, is in constant motion with stairs and multiple levels, taking the audience from the cramped Bronx apartment where a young Moss lived with his immigrant family to Kaufman’s lavish Manhattan townhouse.

PPT’s “Act One” plays at the Meroney Theater Jan. 26-28 and Feb. 1-4 at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee Jan. 29 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets: adults $17, students/seniors $14 at 704-633-5471 or PiedmontPlayers.com

The book

“Act One,” published in 1959 is a modern-day Horatio Alger tale that chronicles Moss Hart’s improbable rise from impoverished Bronx boy to world-famous playwright. Hart was forced to drop out of school at 15 to support his parents and younger brother. After toiling with several meaningless jobs, Hart learned the ropes as a summer-camp entertainment director and after struggling to write a number of plays on his own, each rejected, Hart finally finds success in an unlikely collaboration with Broadway legend George S. Kaufman.

Published two years before Hart’s premature death, “Act One” acquired the status of a sacred text among theater-lovers, giving the reader a peek behind the curtain, showing how the theater world really works including just how much failure and heartbreak go into even the most successful plays and musicals.

Who was Moss Hart?

(The following is an excerpt from the Washington Post article by Jonathan Yardley published on Dec 1, 2008)

Moss Hart had one of the most spectacular show business careers of the 20th century. Born in New York City in 1904, he had his first hit show, “Once in a Lifetime,” written with George S. Kaufman, shortly before his 26th birthday. He and Kaufman wrote five other hits, two of which — “You Can’t Take It With You” and “The Man Who Came to Dinner” ­—are still mainstays of the amateur and professional repertoire.

On his own he wrote “Lady in the Dark,” with haunting music by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, and the screenplay for Judy Garland’s finest movie, “A Star Is Born.” He was, to boot, the director of the most successful musical in Broadway history, “My Fair Lady,” and of “Camelot.”

On top of all that, his autobiography, “Act One,” published in 1959 — two years before his sudden death from a heart attack —was “a runaway bestseller on the New York Times list for almost a year and number one for 22 weeks.” Yet today, nearly half a century after his death, Hart seems almost completely forgotten outside theater circles. Perhaps this is because, unlike his contemporaries and friends Noel Coward, Cole Porter and George Gershwin, he wrote only words, not music that can be sung, hummed and remembered. Perhaps it is because even the best and most durable of his plays have, today, a touch of the period piece. Whatever the explanation, it is a great injustice, for as a re-reading of “Act One” reminds me, he was an amazing man with an amazing story.’”

The cast

Moss Hart: Austin Young

George S. Kaufman: Gary Thornburg

Helen, Mrs. Rosenbloom, Phyllis, Muriel, Arline: Bianca Warren

Aunt Kate, Freida Fishbein: Eve Philips

Fur Worker #1, David Allen, Irving, George: Joe Cornacchione

Jed Harris, Sir John, Regan, Fur Worker #2, Jerry: Jon Leach

Beatrice Kaufman, Lady Caroline, Saloon Lady: Lesi Jonap

Lillie, Mrs. Harris, Edna Ferber: Lori Van Wallandael

Gilpin, Langston Hughes, Augustus Pitou, Porter: Marc Anderson

Dorothy Parker, Belle, Maid: Morgan Warren

Wally, Slimowitz,Woolecott: Nick Bishop

Mrs. Borofsky, May, Hester Worsley, Roz, Ingenue: Rachael Cornacchione

Max Siegel, Sam Harris, Father, Gilpin’s Manager: Robert Hackett

Eddie: Tanner Groppi

Dore, Harpo, Priestly Morrison: Tony Moore

Mossy, Bernie: Gavin McDaniel

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