Act One (Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center, closes June 15). James Lapine’s thrillingly well-staged dramatic adaptation of Moss Hart’s theatrical autobiography, in which Tony Shalhoub plays both George S. Kaufman (Hart’s collaborator and mentor) and Hart in middle age, has the open-hearted impact of a melodrama, one that has the advantage of being true. His was an old-fashioned American-dream-come-true tale, and it doesn’t embarrass Mr. Lapine in the least to dish it up on a pageant-like scale reminiscent of the spectacular stage version of Nicholas Nickleby. You’ll cheer–and cry (TT).
Rocky (Winter Garden, 1634 Broadway). Believe it or not–and it definitely surprised me–the musical version of Rocky turns out to be a very impressive show, staged with immense panache and soaring physicality by Alex Timbers. The performances are consistently strong and the score, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, is generally good and occasionally outstanding. Absolutely not for bros only (TT).
Mark Harris, Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War (Penguin, $29.95). A carefully researched, grippingly readable account of the military careers of Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens, and William Wyler, all of whom volunteered to serve in World War II and made training and propaganda films about the war for the U.S. government–often placing their lives at risk to do so (TT).
Stephen Lloyd, Constant Lambert: Beyond the Rio Grande (Boydell, $64). The first full-length biography of the jazz-influenced composer-conductor-critic who wrote Music Ho! and was–or should have been–England’s Leonard Bernstein. If you only know him as the model for Hugh Moreland in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, this superbly thorough biography will tell you the whole sad story (TT).
Alec Wilder, The Octets 1938-47: Music for Lost Souls and Wounded Birds (Hep, two CDs). The first CD reissue ever of the complete recordings of the Alec Wilder Octet, a studio-only ensemble that played instrumental miniatures in which Wilder fused jazz and classical music to utterly original and winsome effect. The forty-five tracks on this set also include contemporary recordings by other performers and ensembles, among them a group of Wilder-penned chamber-orchestra pieces conducted by none other than Frank Sinatra. I wrote the liner notes, which put the octet’s recordings in historical perspective (TT).
London Wall (Mint Theater, 311 W. 43, extended through Apr. 26). The U.S. premiere of John Van Druten’s 1931 comedy about a quartet of working women and the benighted men for whom they work. It has a distinctly contemporary flavor–enough so that you’ll come away wondering whether Van Druten might deserve credit for inventing the workplace comedy long before it found favor on TV–and this immaculate revival is involvingly performed by one of New York’s top off-Broadway troupes (TT).
William Bailey (Betty Cuningham Gallery, 541 West 25, up through Mar. 29). New canvases, plus a selection of earlier work, by the immensely subtle American still-life painter whom I described as follows in 2007: “Today Bonnard is widely acknowledged as the major master he always was, and Morandi and Diebenkorn seem well on the way to achieving similar recognition. William Bailey will likely prove a harder sell, not just because of the American obsession with ‘cutting-edge’ art but also because his paintings never raise their voice….They give nothing away: you must come to them.” Do so (TT).
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (Walter Kerr, 219 W. 48). A brilliantly effective musical-comedy adaptation of the same 1907 novel by Roy Horniman on which Kind Hearts and Coronets was also based, with Jefferson Mays giving a fabulous performance as the multiple murder victims whom Alec Guinness portrayed in the film (TT).