By Mary Boyle
Groucho Marx may not be very familiar to anyone under the age of 50, and yet, the cigar-smoking, grease-mustached, stooped-walking, bespectacled middle child of the famous Marx Brothers will forever be a part of American culture. Those funny black glasses with the big nose and mustache attached? That's Groucho. That song about Lydia the tattooed lady? Groucho made that famous. Groucho, along with Charlie Chaplin, W.C Fields, Mae West, Buster Keaton, and Jimmy Durante, made the jump from Vaudeville to film in the 1920's, inspiring generations of actors and comedians along the way. While Groucho has been gone since 1977, today's audience can still get a perfect sense of his wit and talent thanks to Frank Ferrante, who's bringing this comic genius to The Rep's Stackner Cabaret stage in An Evening With Groucho.
The production is written, directed, and performed by Ferrante, who is accompanied by pianist, Gerald Sternbach, one of L.A.'s foremost Musical Directors. Ferrante enters the stage as himself but, with the help of a bit of grease paint and some glasses, transforms himself into Groucho before the audience's eyes. Part storytelling, part musical, and pure comedic genius, Ferrante uses his own sharp wit, inspired by Groucho, and the people in the audience to move the performance along, making each show unique. The intimacy of the Stackner is the perfect venue for this production, and Ferrante certainly does his best to get to know the audience...intimately.
Ferrante, who was shy as a child, discovered Groucho on the T.V. quiz show, You Bet Your Life. In 1985, as a Drama Student at the University of Southern California, Ferrante invited Groucho's son, Arthur, to his senior project performance, based on Groucho. According to Ferrante, "It was serendipity." Just a year later, he starred in Arthur's play, Groucho: A Life in Revue, and he has played Groucho ever since, from New York to London, and even for a PBS special. Although he never met Groucho, himself, Ferrante is close with his family members, and has had the opportunity to meet and speak with many who were close with the famous comedian.
Groucho, along with his brothers, Chico, Harpo, Gummo, and Zeppo, star in five of the American Film Institute's 100 Funniest Movies: Duck Soup (1933), A Night at the Opera (1935), A Day at the Races (1937), Horse Feathers (1932), and Monkey Business (1931). In 1949, the brothers split up, and Groucho went on to perform solo on both radio and television. Vaudeville performers like the Marx Brothers inspired our modern day variety television shows, such as the Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show. In fact, Groucho Marx was the very first guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1962.
Getting to know Groucho is an essential part of understanding American culture, and Frank Ferrante brings this icon to life, right on the stage, the way he was meant to be experienced. As Ferrante says, "Tell 'em Groucho sent ya!"
An Evening With Groucho runs through May 28th at The Rep's Stackner Cabaret (108 E. Wells St. in Milwaukee). Tickets can be purchased online at www.milwaukeerep.com, by calling (414) 224-9490, or in person at the Ticket Office. An Evening With Groucho is sponsored by David and Camille Kundert. The Rep is sponsored in part by the United Performing Arts Fund.
About Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Milwaukee Rep is a nationally-recognized company that presents compelling dramas, powerful classics, award-winning contemporary works and full-scale musicals housed in its three unique performance venues – the Quadracci Powerhouse, Stiemke Studio, and Stackner Cabaret. The Rep also produces an annual production of A Christmas Carol,
featuring a World Premiere new adaptation in 2016, at the historic Pabst Theater. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Mark Clements and Managing Director Chad Bauman,
Milwaukee Repertory Theater ignites positive change in the cultural, social, and economic vitality of its community by creating world-class theater experiences that entertain, provoke, and inspire meaningful dialogue among an audience representative of Milwaukee’s rich diversity.