BWW Review: Stackner Cabaret Invites Comic Spirit to Milwaukee in AN EVENING WITH GROUCHO
Actor Frank Ferrante begins on Milwaukee's Stackner Cabaret's stage by walking over to a small table, sitting down, and then placing the iconic thick black mustache and eyebrows defining the indomitable comedian Groucho Marx. In the The Milwaukee Repertory Theater's superb production An Evening With Groucho written by Ferrante and directed by Dreya Weber, the transformation from actor to classic comic spirit engages the audience in a collusion of laughter and humor for all audiences.
Groucho Marx (his actual name was Julius Harris) and his brothers, Chico, Harpo, Gummo and Zeppo performed on Vaudeville, Broadway and in film from the early 1920's through the 1950's. The family team bewitched audiences with films such as Coconuts, Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera, that preceded an enormous honor where all 13 of their films place in the top 100 comedies named by the American Film Institute (AFI), two being named in the top 20. The four brothers remain the only siblings named collectively in the AFI'S top 25 male performers of Classic Hollywood Cinema. Together, the troupe leaves an incomparable legacy while Groucho went on to perform on television in You Bet Your Life and The Tonight Show in the 1960's.
In between this entire two man production, actor and pianist, Ferrante's Groucho performs his songs, including "Lydia, the Tatooed Lady", from these iconic movies so the brothers' personal history and story unfolds in entertaining bits and pieces.. Ferrante embodies the athletic and energetic Groucho with almost balletic dance and song, as in "Dr. Hackenbush," unleashing a ferocious, endless enthusiasm. When he jumps over a small settee or hops atop the baby grand piano where his accompanist and comic sidekick Gerald Sternbach sits, the audience can only appreciate his flexible feats of theater in amazement.
Ferrante has performed this production for 33 years, and his admiration for Groucho the man shows through every minute in this personable performance, fresh as ever in the intimate Stackner. Even Groucho's tantalizing humor twists and turns along with the actor's agile limbs. Ferrante's clear vision of the Groucho who famously smoked his cigar while cavorting on past stages where his iconic wit emerges when teasing the Stackner audiences.
In the opening night show, Ferrante invited a young boy on stage and the actor eventually envisions a younger Groucho to assist him, inviting the audience to appreciate Groucho for new generations of admirers. Watching the two "actors" parade around the stage Groucho style after Ferrante crayoned a black mustache and eyebrows on the young boy was a treat for every age. Audiences can only wonder at the entire Groucho production run, overflowing with Ferrante's amazing ability to capture Groucho's indomitable flair for flirting and ad-libbing, as he did with a married couple sitting at one of the cabaret's front tables on Sunday night.
In this theatrical evening to remember the great Groucho Marx, for those that knew him well and those who are meeting his comic mastery for the first time, the cabaret encourages the audience to revisit humor. That ability to laugh and let go with deep from the gut fun that soothes the heart and soul, and whatever ails one in an average day to day. One only needs to sit and enjoy this evening away from cell phones, news feeds and alternative facts. Luxuriate in pure comic spirit from the past that infuses the future with an ability to laugh, laugh, laugh! What a distinct pleasure to experience Ferrante's long running production in Milwaukee this spring--one might even need to see the mesmerizing An Evening With Groucho twice! Remember the show's secret word is laughter.
Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents An Evening With Groucho at the Stackner Cabaret in the Patty and Jay Baker Theater complex through May 28. For information regarding tickets to the 2017-2018 season, the upcoming Jane Eyre, performance schedule or to purchase tickets, please call: 414.224.9490 or visit: www.milwaukeerep.com