Last night, I went to a marvelous party. Excuse me for starting with a Noel Coward lyric, for the title of the evening, held at the Vivian Beaumont, on the beautiful set of Act One, was Act Two: A Swell Party with Moss Hart and Friends. But Coward was one of the friends invoked, as were Garson Kanin and Edna Ferber and Bennett Cerf and George S. Kaufman, so I hope Hart wouldn't mind.
This production, written by Laurence Maslon, with musical direction by Tom Murray and direction by Bartlett Sher, was a spring benefit for Lincoln Center Theater. It began with Andre Bishop, LCT's Producing Artistic Director, thanking those who had helped make the evening a success: the Benefit Chairman extraordinares, Donald G. Drapkin and Sue Hostetler, and Honorary Chairmen Janine and J. Tomlinson Hill, as well as LCT's Board of Directors and hard-working staff.
The benefit, Bishop said, "continues where Act One leaves off, as Moss Hart becomes a glamorous, worldly man of the theater, working with the leading theater artists of his time." Several of the leading theater artists of our own time entertained last night. They were all wonderful and versatile in what they performed. Victoria Clark sang "One Life To Live," from the 1941 musical Lady in the Dark, that Hart wrote with Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin. Steven Pasquale performed "Have You Met Miss Jones" from the 1937 showI'd Rather Be Right that Hart wrote with Kaufman, Richard Rodgers, and Lorenz Hart. From the same show, Byron Jennings gave us a commanding FDR. Lewis J. Stadlen was pitch-perfect in a scene from Kaufman and Hart's 1936 play, You Can't Take It With You.
Malcolm Gets displayed his ability to invoke the spirit of Noel Coward, before the ensemble did a sketch from As Thousands Cheer, a 1933 revue that Hart did with Irving Berlin. From the same show, Montego Glover offered a wistful "Harlem on My Mind." "Tchaikovsky" was a show-stopper when Danny Kaye did it in Lady in the Dark and so it was again at the Beaumont when performed by David Garrison. Also a crowd pleaser: Stephen Colbert, who recited the "Advice To Breathless Thespians" that Hart delivered as a graduation address and subsequently published in The New York Times on June 5, 1960. (Sample categories: "How To Enter Sardi's After A Failure" and "How To Curry Favor with the Critics.")
Kelli O'Hara, who like many of the performers has performed on the Beaumont more than once, and who like many of the performers was generously sacrificing her night-off from current Broadway duties to take part, performed "Show Me" from the 1956 musical My Fair Lady, which Hart directed. O'Hara had triumphed in a concert version of the show in 2007, with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. It was to Fisher that the Beaumont benefit's attendees, which included Candice Bergen, Barbara Walters, and Joel Grey, retired after the performance for supper. It was all swell and marvelous and whatever other adjectives Hart and Coward are batting around up there in Musical-Comedy Heaven.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com