BWW Reviews: ANIMAL CRACKERS at Center Stage - Groucho is Full of Gusto
I felt like I was walking into a time warp when I stepped into Center Stage's Pearlstone Theater. The beauitful set design by Neil Patel was art deco which put the play in a '40s format. On stage was the six piece orchestra under the baton of Laura Bergquist (also on piano). The lovely music by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby was typical '40s music (The play origniated on Broadway in 1928 and the film was made in 1930.) Doug Peck did the great orchestrations.
I thoroughly enjoyed the dancing which is reminiscent of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Credit Tammy Mader for the enjoyable choreography. You will see some of the best tap dancing ever seen at Center Stage. Thank you Dina De Costanzo and John Scherer.
The Marx Brothers were known for physical comedy and Center Stage was smart to hire Paul Kalina (Director of Physical Comedy) and the results of his work are quite obvious on stage. (For a nice article on Kalina, see Tim Smith's article in the September 1, 2013 edition of the Baltimore Sun.)
There is no question Center Stage was indeed fortunate to have BJ Jones as Director. Jones is in his 16th year as Artistic Director of Chicago's Northlight Theatre where he guided the world premiere of Jason Robert Brown's THE LAST FIVE YEARS. In fact, many in the cast have Chicago credits.
One who does not is Baltimore's own Bruce Randolph Nelson (a member of the Everyman Theatre's Theatre Company) who steals the show as Groucho. Nelson is simply superb. He has mastered the antics of Groucho and makes the evening one to remember. Wait till you see his ad libs with the audience. His comedic timing is impeccable.
Playing Groucho's brother Chico (or Ravelli) is the accomplished pianist Jonathan Brody who has extensive Broadway credits. He is fun to watch.
Playing the classic role of Harpo is Brad Aldous (known as the Professor) who actually plays the harp. Aldous has amazing dexterity which is clearly evident when he tries to climb a ladder.
Certainly a highlight is Sean Blake who plays Hives the butler and millionaire Chandler. He gets a lot of laughs, deservedly so.
Playing the role of Mrs. Rittenhouse is the talented Catherine Smitko who is also not a bad dancer.
Other members of the cast deserve credit...Eric Kommor and Sean Montgomery.
One of the highlights for me (when I laughed the loudest) is when Nelson does an aside to the audience as in the classic play STRANGE INTERLUDE. It is hysterical.
ANIMAL CRACKERS runs until October 3, 2013. For tickets, call 410-332-0033 or visit www.centerstage.org.
The Center Stage program is filled with fascinating material about the roots of vaudville by Production Dramaturg Gavin Witt.. For more information visit www.centerstage.org/AnimalCrackers/digital-dramaturgy.
What a geat way to open the Center Stage season.