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‘Once in a Lifetime’ includes humor, history

University of Jamestown students rehearse a scene Wednesday for the upcoming production, "Once in a Lifetime." John M. Steiner / The Sun

A fast-paced farce focusing on the movie industry’s transition from silent film to sound, “Once in a Lifetime” features a cast of 25, a script with constant action and a set resembling movie marquees of the 1920s.

“I find the show amusing because I have such a strong passion for this era in movie history,” said Mike McIntyre, director of the upcoming University of Jamestown production.

Though films “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Artist” have also treated the movies’ transition to full sound, “Once in a Lifetime” was the first to do so, McIntyre said.

The show focuses on three vaudeville actors in need of work, who decide to head to Hollywood to teach silent film actors to speak so they can act in the new “talkies.”

The first full-length movie with sound came out in 1927, and “Once in a Lifetime” was written just two years later. And while “Once in a Lifetime” is loosely based on history, it also skewers the ridiculousness of the film industry, then still in its early days. 

“There’s a great spirit of fun throughout the whole play that I find very appealing,” McIntyre said.

Like many of the comedies of its time, “Once in a Lifetime” has a cast of about 25 people playing about 40 parts, with big, bold characterization that fits the boisterous, noisy nature of the play.

“A comedy of this type is from a bygone era,” McIntyre said, noting that many plays are now written for smaller casts simply so that fewer actors need to be paid.

The play also requires a certain amount of exaggeration and speed, in a style that’s not as familiar to most theater-goers as it was in the 1930s and 1940s, McIntyre said. It’s a style influenced by vaudeville but one that modern audiences will still find funny.

“It’s a lot of characters taking the stage for moments of glory … a wonderfully satiric look at show business,” McIntyre said. “Even though we are certainly of a different era … people will find the humor still timely.”

The play begins at 7:30 p.m. April 10, 11 and 12 in the DeNault Auditorium of the Reiland Fine Arts Center at the UJ campus.

For tickets, which cost $8 each, call the box office at 252-3467, ext. 5435, or email

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by email at