Marvellous Marx mayhem

An Evening with Groucho (Frank Ferrante)

Gardens Theatre

November 8 – 9

There is a comforting feel to the start of “An Evening with Groucho” as award winning actor Frank Ferrante takes to the stage like an old school entertainer to tell of his discovery, at age nine, of the comic anarchy that is the movies of Marx brothers Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo and Zeppo. Before long, however, Ferrante has transformed on stage into the distinctive American comedian and film and television star Groucho Marx to present impression of what a one-man show from the comedy great might have been.

Groucho.jpg

With blackened eyebrows and added moustache he becomes an iconic image of another era. The show, too, is like a dinner theatre one of old as, accompanied by pianist Alex Wignall, he assails the audience with rapid-fire vaudevillian and physical humour designed to entertain even the youngest of family members in the audience, but also laden with innuendo. Audience interaction is ongoing throughout the show as Ferrante leaps on and off the stage to revisit gags. This interactivity adds to the intimacy of the evening, especially in Act Two which sees him hilarious ad-libbing through a tour of the stalls, always incorporating Groucho’s sharp style in his interaction, such is the calibre of his own witty spontaneity in off-the-cuff, casual commentary.

The part-standup, part-cabaret, part-biography features songs, anecdotes and some of Groucho’s best one-liners and, as such, is packed full of puns as he tells stories of his family, reflects on the brothers’ different personalities and talks of the movies they made. Act One flies by in a bustle of frenetic, zany energy and while Act Two opens with a more subdued ‘Show Me a Rose’ and homage to the ‘other Marx brother’ Margaret Dumont, the actress who served as stately comic foil to the comic mayhem in seven of their films, it too soon speeds along with signature numbers such as ‘Hooray for Captain Spaulding’ and ‘Doctor Hackenbush’.

Ferrente has spent a large part of his career playing Groucho to critical acclaim all over the world and is, as expected, brilliant at combining the verbal and the physical. He inhabits the role absolutely with every naughty eye roll, innocent eyebrow raise and playful throw of hands in the air. Vocally, his pace, emphasis and cadence are absolutely on point and it is easy to see how Morrie Ryskind, co-author of the classic Marx movies “Animal Crackers” and “A Night at the Opera”, could declare him to be “the only actor aside from Groucho who delivered my lines as they were intended.”

Even if you don’t know much about the Marx men, there is much enjoyment to be had in experience of “An Evening with Groucho” for ‘there’s no such thing as an old joke if you never heard it before’. Besides which, everyone is sure to at least know of ‘Lydia, the Tattooed Lady’, if not from the Marx Brothers’ “At the Circus” then at least Kermit the Frog’s “The Muppet Show” rendition complete with muppet pig version of the queen of tattoo.

“An Evening with Groucho” is a marvellous nostalgic experience of mayhem, mimicry and reproduction at the hands of a consistently brilliant conjurer of frivolity and it easy to see why so many audience members were back again after having seen the show two years ago. Its trip through the songs, dance routines, and stand up of legendary comedian is hugely entertaining, especially for those who appreciate a good dad joke.

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