Melissa Joan Hart

Before Melissa Joan Hart returns to TV this summer with her new ABC Family sitcom, she's making another comeback first — to the stage.

"Everyone knows me for TV [Clarissa Explains It All; Sabrina, the Teenage Witch], but my theater background goes back way before television!" Hart tells TVGuide.com. "I did a lot of theater as a child. It was because of theater that I got Clarissa. I've always loved it. To be part of the Broadway experience again is amazing. This is such a great opportunity."

Melissa Joan Hart joins off-Broadway play

That opportunity is a four-week run on the off-Broadway show, Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Adapted for the stage by Nora and Delia Ephron from Ilene Beckerman's 1995 best-seller, Love is a Vagina Monologues-style all-female play that uses clothing to invoke memories.

Hart, who moved to Connecticut last summer with husband Mark Wilkerson, 32, and their sons, Mason, 4, and Braydon, 2, jumped at the chance to join the show not just to go back to her roots, but to explore a different kind of stage performing.

"It's storytelling, which is great. It's not a lot of wardrobe changes and blocking, so it's less terrifying to get back into theater, and I get to be many, many characters" she says, listing off a lesbian bride and a woman who gets a racy wardrobe when she marries her second husband. "We also do these things called 'Clotheslines.' One is about all the things Madonna wore. ... The play is just real stories about how clothes change our lives and create memories. ... Every one of us has different memories with different pieces of clothing — your first purse or your first bra."

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For Hart, it's about the one that got away. "I wanted this peacock-feathered dress for prom ... it was so gorgeous! I couldn't afford it because I was in high school, and it was, like, $5,000," she says. "To this day, when I find something that really pulls at my heart, I buy it. ... Someday I'll have someone create it for me. I still think about it!"

The play also offers a change of pace for the actress, whose run ends April 25. She commutes to New York by train, which provides some much treasured time for herself. "I read on the train. I just rejoined a book club, and it's the first time since I've had both babies that I've read! It's nice to have that time to myself," the Dancing with the Stars alum says. "I miss them terribly, but ... Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, I just have one show at night, so I'll be with them all day."

Come summer, Hart, who turns 34 on April 18, will spend more time away from her family when she jets to Los Angeles to shoot her new series, Melissa & Joey, with Joey Lawrence. After their TV movie My Fake Fiancé shattered ratings for the network last year, ABC Family developed the sitcom with the duo in mind.

Hart plays a politician who hires a "manny" (Lawrence) to care for her niece and nephew when her sister winds up in jail. Despite the set-up, the show, set for an August premiere, is less Who's the Boss? and more Moonlighting, she says. (Unsurprising, since Lawrence can see Bruce Willis — "in his prime" — playing his role.)

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"Unfortunately, because of the title, [which was chosen] to capture the advertisers' attention, a lot of people think it's a reality show, so we have to squash that too!" Hart says. "It's a throwback to Cheers. Anyone who loved traditional sitcoms would love this. We both really believe in the true sitcom, which you don't see a lot now. The only sitcoms I watch are [The New Adventures of] Old Christine and Rules of Engagement. So we really want to bring it back to audiences like me who are still watching reruns of Seinfeld and Friends."

Of course, there's also the nostalgia factor with Hart and Lawrence, a Blossom alum, themselves.

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"I'm excited because everyone's giving me a positive reaction about returning to television, and I'm sure they are too for Joey. I get it on Twitter every day: 'When's it airing?' 'Can't wait to see you on TV again,'" she says. "Joey and I have a blast and have really good chemistry. We both really want this to succeed in a huge way. Hopefully we have a little success on our hands and it'll go for a few years."