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NKU Revives 1930 Comedy About Early Hollywood Film Biz

In Once in a Lifetime, a trio of affable, on-the-skids vaudeville troupers (not above a scam) go to Hollywood and pass themselves off as “voice experts” as silent movies transition to talkies.

In a big screen-sized show (70 characters, five locations), the threesome encounter all the crazies you would expect to inhabit the movie industry -- silent-film starlets, unhinged movie studio executives, wacky gossip columnists, desperate cigarette girls, dim-witted stage mothers…

The satire-with-a-heart is a hit Broadway comedy from 1930 by the renowned writing team George Kaufman and Moss Hart and it’s getting a revival at Northern Kentucky University February 18-28.

Here’s a funny little bit of trivia: Kaufman and Hart had never worked in Hollywood when they wrote this play.  They just read showbiz ‘bible’ Variety and had all the background they needed. 

Andy Burns plays Jerry, the impulsive one. “He gets lost in his optimism,” Burns explains. The NKU junior says he understands the feeling. He and his character also share the trait of being “excited about the work he’s doing.” Jerry, Burns muses, “He kind of forgets who he is.”

Burns doesn’t have that problem. His not-exactly-a-problem is deciding what he loves best. He’s a musical theatre major, but he loves acting and he’s thrilled to have his first NKU lead in a straight play. Right after it closes he’ll start rehearsals for Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, which opens in March. He’ll play Cinderella’s promiscuous Prince.

Burns says Lifetime still translates to audiences; Mike King is directing his fourth Kaufman and/or Hart comedy with Lifetime and expands, “their plays also contain some important ideas about what is important in our lives, and the importance of family—either the one we were born into, or the one we create around us. And their plays have a gentle humanism—a belief that people are basically good, and will eventually do the right thing.”

Even Burns’s character Jerry.

Burns is just as serious about music, and at NKU he gets to do both.

When he was an NKU freshman he was music director and composed incidental music for Arabian Nights. He also wrote music and composed for the freshman showcase and will be music director for a show next season, although he can’t say what because it hasn’t been announced. It’s being directed by Corrie Danieley, and that’s good enough for him.

“There is not an element of music directing that doesn’t bring me joy,” he says simply.

This summer Burns is looking forward to counting villainous Lord Farquaard in Shrek the Musical among his roles in a 24/7 summer rep. “When we’re not rehearsing or performing we’re building sets,” Burns reports happily.  Or playing softball with a team that last year included Oscar winner J.K. Simmons (a Bigfork alum.)

Burns says, “I learned a lot about myself last summer” and he’s especially looking forward to returning to big sky country because “I really want to show them what they taught me.”

Once in a Lifetime, Feb. 18-28. Northern Kentucky University, Corbett Theatre, Fine Arts Center, Highland Heights. Tickets $14, seniors $11, students $8. 859-572-5464 and [email protected]

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts