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Review: Asolo's 'Once in a Lifetime' delivers on madcap comedy from another era

Vaudevillians in Hollywood: from left, Jason Bradley as George Lewis, Hillary Clemens as May Daniels and Andrew Carter as Jerry Hyland.

Daniel Perales Studio

Vaudevillians in Hollywood: from left, Jason Bradley as George Lewis, Hillary Clemens as May Daniels and Andrew Carter as Jerry Hyland.

Once in a Lifetime is one of those plays that avid theatergoers ought to see, well, once in a lifetime. It's the madcap comedy that launched the richly successful Broadway writing team of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, whose Depression-era reign included The Man Who Came to Dinner and You Can't Take It with You.

Asolo Repertory Theatre has done a fine job with Once in a Lifetime, but there is only so far that the exuberance of its stylish, clever production, directed by Mark Rucker, can carry the audience before the talky, overplotted Kaufman and Hart style begins to feel stale.

The cast features a delightful performance by Hillary Clemens as May Daniels, a wisecracking "dame" who persuades the other members of a failing vaudeville act, George Lewis (Jason Bradley) and Jerry Hyland (Andrew Carter), to head for Hollywood, where the advent of talking pictures is revolutionizing the industry. They start an elocution school to teach movie stars how to talk. One thing leads to another, and George, an amiable stiff who is never happier than when munching Indian nuts and reading Variety, is anointed as a genius, a sort of Irving Thalberg type with a knack for thinking ahead of the trend. If George gets snookered into buying 2,000 airplanes for the studio, then you can be sure that airplane movies will be the next big thing.

There is plenty to like in the Asolo revival. The Act 2 Pullman car scene is well staged, with smart Art Deco design (by Erik Flatmo) and actors bouncing along to the rhythm of riding the rails. The clips from vintage talkies, such as The Jazz Singer, between scenes are splendid. But the Hollywood parodies that must have been so hilarious in 1930 are dated. The hammy overacting by many in the large supporting cast grows tiresome, and Rucker's use of faux old film sequences (with projection design by Austin Forbord) seems like a desperate effort to try to pep up the play when the humor is wilting.

Once in a Lifetime continues through Feb. 29 at the Asolo in Sarasota. Run time: 2 hours, 40 minutes, including two intermissions. $31-$69. (941) 351-8000 or toll-free 1-800-361-8388; asolorep.org.

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The Florida Orchestra's first "Intimate Collaboration" of the season is tonight at 7 at Studio@620 in St. Petersburg. Loosely tied to this week's masterworks program, which has a visual arts theme (Pictures at an Exhibition), it features actor Lisa Powers Tricomi; designer Jo Milic; double bassist Dee Moses and his wife, choreographer-dancer Elsa Valbuena; and viola player Ben Markwell with Alfred Gratta at the piano. $10 suggested donation. (727) 895-6620; studio620.org.

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Vince di Mura, pianist and musical director for several American Stage in the Park shows (Rent, Hair, The Pirates of Penzance), is playing pop and jazz standards with a sterling group of musicians, including vocalist Misti Bernard, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the St. Petersburg theater. Pay what you can (suggested donation $10-$20) or $15 advance. (727) 823-7529; americanstage.org.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716.

Review: Asolo's 'Once in a Lifetime' delivers on madcap comedy from another era 01/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 9:08pm]

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