Actors and son discuss famed playwright and director's autobiography “Act One,” upcoming play adaptation

Under the direction of a moderator, Christopher Hart and actors Santino Fontana and Tony Shalhoub discuss Moss Hart's life, work and autobiography, as well as the new play "Act One" based on his life which Fontana and Shalhoub are set to star in at a New York City Barnes and Nobles store on Feb. 18. Photo by Madison Iszler.

Fifty-five years after its publication and immediate success and 52 years after playwright Moss Hart's death at the age of 55, “Act One” is being adapted for the Broadway stage by Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner James Lapine, who will also be directing the production.

The play, which shares the name of the autobiography, chronicles Hart’s rise from poverty to becoming a vastly successful playwright and theatre director; it gives an inside look at arduous process a playwright goes through to bring an idea to the stage. "Act One" is currently in its second week of rehearsal.

On Feb. 18, Hart's son, Christopher, and Act One” cast members Santino Fontana, (the Tony-nominated prince in Broadway's “Cinderella” and recent star of Disney's "Frozen") and Tony Shalhoub (best known for his Emmy-winning lead in the TV series “Monk”) read various passages from Hart’s “Act One” aloud  and signed copies of the newly released book at a Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side. Hart, Fontana and Shalhoub discussed the autobiography and upcoming play and answered audience questions.

“My dad’s rise is still totally unlikely, and here’s a man who graduated from eighth grade and lived in the Bronx and Brooklyn and grew up actually never seeing Broadway until he was thirteen years old,” Hart said. “He traveled underneath Broadway on the subway but that’s about as close as he got. And what’s so astounding about the book is his perseverance and his dedication to finding a way to make a life for himself in the theater.”

Hart wrote his first Broadway success, “Once In A Lifetime” (1930) with Broadway veteran George S. Kaufman. Over the next decade, Kaufman and Hart continued working together, creating a number of successful shows including “You Can’t Take It With You” (1936) and “The Man Who Came to Dinner” (1939).

Hart’s biggest Broadway hit by far was the musical “My Fair Lady” (1956). The show ran for over seven years and won several awards, including the prestigious Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Director for Hart.

The perseverance and dedication Hart displayed from a young age are reflected in his works.

Shalhoub said, “Moss says at one point, ‘The only thing that poverty was ever good for was the drive it gave me to leave it behind.’”

“I think that [quote] explains so much of [Hart’s] persistence,” Fontana said.

“The theater is not so much a profession as a disease, and my first look at Broadway was the beginning of a lifelong infection,” Moss writes in his memoir, “Act One.”

In addition to sharing the role of Hart on stage, both Shalhoub and Fontana share his passion for the stage.

“I think [for] anyone’s who’s an actor, who remains an actor for any amount of has to be an infection, because it doesn’t make sense,” Fontana said. “It’s not a logical profession and it’s not a logical life. It’s something that has to be driven by passion.”

Shalhoub plays an older Hart in “his fifties, looking back at his life and narrating,” he said. “Santino (who plays the younger Hart) and I share the narration. We describe what Hart was going through.”

Shalhoub’s narration drops off in Act II of the play when he becomes George S. Kaufman and Santino’s narration takes over.

When asked about succeeding works, Hart commented, “Most people think that 'Act Two' was coming, but he [Moss Hart] always felt that the best part of the story is getting there, and he didn’t want to really write, ‘and then I wrote, and then I won this Tony Award, and then I....’"

Hart added that after the success that followed “Act One,”his father had no interest in doing the next part, at least not for many years.

“Act One” opens on April 17 at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, with previews beginning March 20.

Upcoming "Act One" leads Santino Fontana and Tony Shalhoub and Christopher Hart sign autographs of a new addition of the play's source material of the same name "Act One" by Moss Hart Hart at a NYC Barnes and Nobles on Feb. 18. Photo by Jennifer Verzuh. was also in attendence. To see their video coverage of the event and exclusive interviews click on this link: