George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart in 1937, the year their play You Can’t Take It with You won a Pulitzer.

From Broadway To Birmingham

Act One makes its Michigan debut.

The Village Players of Birmingham opens its fourth production of its 95th season with James Lapine’s tribute to a life in the theater, Act One. The play is based on playwright Moss Hart’s autobiography of the same title.

This poignant piece of theater makes its Michigan premiere for three weekends, March 9-11, 16-18, 23-24 at the Village Players of Birmingham.

In Act One, Hart tells the story of growing up in a Jewish family living in unrelenting poverty in the Bronx in the 1920s — while dreaming of being part of the glamorous world of the stage.

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart in 1937, the year their play You Can’t Take It with You won a Pulitzer.

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart in 1937, the year their play You Can’t Take It with You won a Pulitzer.

The play in part reflects the experience of children of Jewish immigrants to the United States, trying to make a better life for themselves and to move beyond the world of cigar-making or selling newspapers. Forced to drop out of school at age 13, Hart’s pluck, determination and talent led him to form an unlikely collaboration with legendary playwright George S. Kaufman and ultimately succeed on Broadway.

Act One features a cast of 14 portraying more than 50 different real-life theater luminaries, including Edna Ferber, Dorothy Parker, Harpo Marx and Langston Hughes. In James Lapine’s hands, the play is poignant, funny, heartbreaking and suspenseful, celebrating the triumph of one’s spirit and determination, and the magic behind the footlights.

“It’s no coincidence that Moss Hart [played by Salvatore Sbrocca of Rochester] became a success in the theater and joined a large group of mostly Jewish men who were a part of the Golden Age of the theater — George S. Kaufman, director Jed Harris, producer Sam Harris [played by Stephen Sussman of Bloomfield Township] along with the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern — they all wrote for musical theater,” said Jay Kaplan of Oak Park, the play’s director and staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project.

Director Jay Kaplan with actors Jillian Felch Frederick, Stephen Sussman and Julie Smith Yolles.

Director Jay Kaplan with actors Jillian Felch Frederick, Stephen Sussman and Julie Smith Yolles.

“In fact, all of Moss’ friends — Eddie Chodorov, who became a playwright; Irving Gordon, who became a jazz composer; and Dore Schary, who became a playwright and the head of MGM Studios — were all Jewish,” he says. Add to that Edna Ferber [played by Julie Smith Yolles of Bingham Farms] and Dorothy Parker [Jillian Felch Frederick of Macomb Township], who were also Jewish.

“These often-first-generation Americans had parents who encouraged, or at least didn’t oppose, their children’s artistic ambitions or their interest in the world of arts, and they were often able to move beyond impoverished circumstances to become successful artists and creators of wonderful literature and theatrical productions. They represented the best of the American dream and they left a mark on our American culture.”

Act One officially opened on Broadway to critical acclaim at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in Lincoln Center in 2014. The play has been hailed as a “nostalgic and ultimately upbeat reflection on fulfilling a dream.”

“This play is about guts and determination to pursue and achieve your dreams,” Kaplan says. “I hope audiences feel uplifted by Moss Hart’s story — that you can achieve your dreams by refusing to give up, despite the odds and
obstacles.”

details

Act One runs for three weekends, March 9-11, 16-18 and 23-24 at the Village Players of Birmingham. $19. (248) 644-2075; birminghamvillageplayers.com.

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