“ONCE IN A LIFETIME” – A Charming Comedy at A.C.T.

Now through October 16th at the American Conservatory Theater

Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

ONCE IN A LIFETIME, written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, explores the crazy period in Hollywood’s early history when technology advanced just enough to co-ordinate images with a soundtrack and bring Silent Film production to a screeching halt. During the transition, when everyone from the newly-formed Sound Departments to the Executive Offices seemed to be making it up as they went along, a whole new crop of hopefuls arrived at the studio gates with every variety of American intonation grown from coast to coast.

NORMA SHEARER – A winner with UCLA

Some of the established stars already possessed voices as beautiful as their faces. Sound experts at UCLA declared that one of M.G.M.’s top female money-makers, Norma Shearer, had the “perfect voice for talking pictures”. Other big names with unyielding accents such as the exotic Polish beauty Pola Negri and Hungarian-born Vilma Banky (the love/lust interest in Rudolph Valentino’s Son of the Shiek) were no longer employable. Make way for the Vocal Coaches.

Julia Coffey (May), Patrick Lane (George), and John Wernke (Jerry)
All production photos by Kevin Berne

The top dog in a trio of has-been vaudevillians manages to sell their tired act for $500. Jerry makes the pitch to May and George that they should hop the next and fastest train to Hollywood, set themselves up as Elocution experts – purveyors of the she sells sea shells method for Success, and stake their claim on Hollywood’s gold. Along the way, up and down with their success, they encounter a veritable Stock Company of familiar character types.

Once in a Lifetime comes from the same team of Broadway luminaries who created the enduring comedy classics The Man Who Came to Dinner and You Can’t Take It with You. The production is directed by A.C.T. Associate Artistic Director Mark Rucker and features a 15-member ensemble who each take on a variety of roles. Among the production’s high-points are an assortment of period film clips including Bing Crosby’s “Going Hollywood” and Frances Williams’ lively “Hollywood Party”. Scenic designs are by Tony Award nominee and A.C.T. associate artist Daniel Ostling (The Homecoming, War Music, and Brainpeople at A.C.T. and Metamorphoses on Broadway).

Click on Bing to hear:
Out where they say, “Let us be gay!”, I’m going Hollywood!


Will LeBow (Herman Glogauer), Julia Coffey, John Wernke, Patrick Lane

Mark Rucker directed a version of this play with the Master of Fine Arts Program in 2010, and the artistic team was quick to realize that his vision for the play would be a great match for the majesty of A.C.T.’s historic home. Artistic Director Carey Perloff says: “One of the things I love about Mark Rucker is his fascination with vintage American comedy. When he directed Once in a Lifetime with our M.F.A. Program students last year, I found his approach so delightful and original that I immediately asked him to bring it to the mainstage.” Speaking to the wide range of A.C.T. artists who will take part in this production, Perloff adds: “This production will be filled with a remarkable combination of stunning newcomers, brilliant recent A.C.T. graduates, multi-talented M.F.A. Program students, and core company members in surprising roles . . . plus delicious video courtesy of Alex Nichols. I can’t wait!”

Will LeBow, Kevin Rolston (Kammerling), Ashley Wickett (Susan), Patrick Lane

The cast brings together many different arms of the A.C.T. artistic family, including A.C.T. core acting company members (René Augesen and Nick Gabriel), recent A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program graduates (Gabriel along with Marisa Duchowny, Patrick Lane, Patrick Russell, and Ashley Wickett), and three third-year students from the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program (Alexander Crowther, Jason Frank, and Jessica Kitchens). Completing the cast are Julia Coffey, Margo Hall, Will LeBow, Kevin Rolston, and John Wernke.

Click on the megaphone to order tickets on-line: mark-rucker-and-poster
A.C.T. Associate Artistic Director Mark Rucker

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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