Home » Burrell to stage comedy ‘Once in a Lifetime’ to cash in on new ‘talkie’ movies

Burrell to stage comedy ‘Once in a Lifetime’ to cash in on new ‘talkie’ movies

by Stewart Cole

Students have fun playing 40 parts for the Burrell High School Theater Company’s production of “Once in a Lifetime,” which runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the Burrell High School auditorium.

The sophisticated comedy centers on a vaudeville trio who invade Hollywood during the new era of talkies. The play was written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman in 1929 and 1930.

The adventures of a vaudeville trio riding the wave of sound invention for movies continue to endure, said Martin Connolly, Burrell’s director and production supervisor.

The story and 40 roles for 24 children attracted Connolly to the production.

“Coming out of the pandemic, participation in everything was down, and to boost participation, I picked something with a big cast,” he said.

The story has a light touch.

“It has a cast of ridiculous characters who are fast-paced, fun and ridiculous,” Connolly said. “It holds up even though there are some references to old characters that people might not be aware of.”

The production is demanding — with five indoor sets and lots of costumes.

“That’s why you don’t see a lot of schools and theater groups doing it,” he said. “I know my production guys are good and we’ve had the same customers for 15 years. We can handle it.”

Lower Burrell senior Matt Crane, 17, plays one of the lead characters, Jerry Hyland, who travels to Hollywood with two other friends.

“They’re a ragtag group of fame hunters,” Crane said.

Talking movies had just been invented and Hyland and his friends want to get in on the ground floor to make money.

“It’s very funny stuff, but a smart kind of joke,” he said. “It’s not that stupid. It’s a more well-written comedy that’s very deep and meaningful, but with light moments.”

Crane has been performing with the theater group throughout high school.

Hyland’s portrayal was motivating for Crane.

“He’s excited throughout the show — his energy is contagious,” Crane said.

Camden Seidel, 17, also of Lower Burrell and a senior, plays another protagonist, George Lewis.

“Lewis is not the brightest,” Seidel said. “But he knows a lot when it comes to movies and show business.”

Lewis becomes a big supervisor in the group’s foray into Hollywood — and then things go wrong, Seidel said.

“Then it’s just a crazy and fun show,” he said.

Seidel has performed in Burrell’s theater program for every production since he was a freshman.

“For me, I love the fact that I’m getting out of my comfort zone with these characters and learning who each one of them is,” he said.

Seidel said the project is unique and historic because it chronicles the advent of sound in motion pictures.

“The play takes place when the first talking picture came out and it’s like this really big thing,” he said.

His character and the others start a school to teach actors how to speak in new movies.

“You can see how movies were made in that time period,” Seidel said.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Maria can be reached by email at mthomas@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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