By Lynn Geyer
Hooray for Hollywood! And Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman! These icon playwrights penned some of the best and most successful comedies of the last century; not the least of which is Once in a Lifetime, now performing at The Lakewood Playhouse. This production proves that time cannot dull the edge of wittily written lines when well acted.
The show opens with two of a trio of down-on-their-luck vaudevillians discussing their lack of funds when the third member of the troupe swings into the room after seeing “The Jazz Singer.” With movies going to talkies, the three decide to go to Hollywood to make their fortunes by opening an elocution school and almost sink Tinsel Town.
This raucous satire of the early days of Hollywood fills the audience with laughter from the opening lines and doesn’t end until the final curtain, more than two and a half hours later. A long show, but it truly goes so fast, you hardly notice it! The first act is 45 minutes and just seems to fly by! There are two shorter acts with an additional intermission between them. However, if you don’t have a need to leave your seat, stay put and watch the fantastic crew change the stage for the next act.
Scenic Designer Hally Phillips has come up with one of the most versatile sets ever to handle the six or so scene changes. The crew (and some of the actors) complete the shifts with chorographic ease and right on time to the wonderful Al Jolson cover music— an added extra stroll down memory lane to this enjoyable evening.
Frances Rankos has surpassed herself with the costume design. It can’t be easy to clothe so many in such diverse outfits; she does the job admirably.
Stage Manager Jen Ankrum oversees the production expertly — making sure everything is in place and on time.
Director Marcus Walker has a genius for choreographing the movements of his cast so that many look uncluttered while few can fill the stage. This time, Walker deals with 22 actors playing 52 roles! It is a wonder that the small space at the Playhouse can hold them all — especially when the Schlepkin Brothers march across the stage! All of Walker’s scenes seem to thrive with chaos which he controls so beautifully. Handling this myriad of talent has got to have this director reeling — but he manages it so well.
As to the actors, there are about a short dozen who play only one part while the others double in brass with as many as six alter egos. The latter includes a very talented cast of characters.
Cal Beekman, Leigh Duncan, Mick Flaaen, Bob Gossman, Joe Kelly, Naarah McDonald, Sophie Nevin, Phil Raschke, David Robertson, Kristen Salacka and Noreen Slease are the supernumeraries who comprise the many faces of this amazing show. Each plays three or more characters with a change of costume and/or wig or just attitude. It’s hard to choose a stand-out in the group since they are all very good. However, Robertson is quite nice in his larger part of playwright turned would-be-screenwriter, Lawrence Vail and Kelly shines in each of his roles.
Danella Jaeger is Phyllis Fontaine and Gretchen Boyt plays Florabel Leigh. This duo so resembles Lola Lamont from “Singin’ in the Rain,” the audience laughs each time they come on stage: Whadda ya meen, kent tak?
Brie Yost is the studio secretary, Miss Leighton; she is a hoot as she scrambles around the office. Carolyn Castaneda is Mrs. Walker, a nicely subdued and befuddled stage mother to our ingénue.
Dana Galagan is suitably flamboyant as the gossip columnist Helen Hobart; she demands attention when she arrives on stage in all her splendor. Galagan also delivers one of the show’s funniest lines when referring to the new talking pictures: “Everywhere you turn, all you hear is sound!”
Kat Christensen is Susan Walker, our ingénue. She exudes talent when playing her no-talent role to the hilt.
Luke Admundsen is Kammerling, the movie director straight from Eric von Stroheim’s Germany with more flamboyance than the latter would ever emit.
Mark Petersen is the head of the studio, Herman Glogauer. He is every actor’s dream — a real nightmare who demands constant attention from “Yes” men, has names immediately lopped off office doors of those who have fallen out of favor and demands that “No time is wasted on thinking!” Petersen is perfect for the role.
Nicole Lockett is May Daniels, the female member of our trio of leads, in this fast-paced romp. She handles the part of the somewhat sensible third of the troupe with ease whether scheming or serious; her talent is obvious.
Lewis Gorman is Jerry Hyland, whom Daniels not so secretly loves. He plays the role of the would-be con artist with vitality and alacrity — a very funny man.
But it is Blake York to whom this show really belongs. York plays the role of George Lewis, the final member of the trio, a bumbling boob who bamboozles the bombastic head of the studio into believing he can do no wrong — much to Lewis’ own amazement. York plays the part so naively deadpan, Buster Keaton would be envious. He just can’t open his mouth without evoking laughter from the audience, even in his love scenes with the ingénue. Even his silent responses to questions bring on peals of laughter.
Once in a Lifetime continues at the Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center through June 28; Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. There is a Pay-What-You-Can night scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday, June 4 and an actors’ benefit performance at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 26.
For reservations or more information, call (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.
Support the Lakewood Playhouse with your attendance at this thoroughly entertaining production. Don’t miss it! A show like this only comes along Once in a Lifetime!