In a quiet moment during the second act of An Evening with Groucho, Frank Ferrante, now in his 30th year portraying the great Groucho Marx, recounts the meeting between a woman and Groucho.groucho

“You’re him, aren’t you? Groucho,” she says. Putting her hand gently on his arm she then says the most powerful words a person can demand of a comedian: “Never die.”

Sadly, it’s been thirty-seven years since the passing of Groucho Marx, the leader and acerbically witty frontman of the Marx Brothers. But in his absence we have Frank Ferrante carrying on his spirit, acting as a living monument and comedic historian for one of the great comedy teams to come out of vaudeville and hit the silver screen. The one man show – technically a two-man show if you count musical accompanist Mark Rabe – is a celebration of the wit, physical dexterity, and hilarity of Groucho and his brothers Chico, Harpo, Gummo, and Zeppo, chronicling their early years (including the origin of their stage names, though Ferrante easily sidesteps a definitive answer for the eponymous Groucho) through their rise to fame in film and television. The struggles, the hardships, but more importantly, the laughs, are all present as Ferrante serves up Groucho’s somewhat linear body of work with an extra side of ham as is befitting of the man responsible for Captain Spaulding, Otis B. Driftwood, and Rufus T. Firefly.

Ferrante begins the show sans makeup, addressing the audience as a man who was forever changed as a child, a shy one at that, when he first saw the rambunctious, free-spirited Marx Brothers in movies like Horse Feathers, Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, A Day at the Races, Duck Soup, and A Night at the Opera. His love letter to Groucho truly begins when he transforms on stage, donning the universally recognized visage of Groucho Marx: grease paint mustache and eyebrows, cigar, glasses, and wild curly hair. It’s Groucho as he was in his prime, alive and breathing through Ferrante as he holds court over the audience.

Groucho_on_couchBut don’t expect Ferrante to remain tied to the stage. Oh no! Audience participation is highly encouraged. And by highly encouraged I mean mandatory. Ferrante leaps and bounds about the sparsely decorated yet homey stage, but it takes only a moment’s glance for him to descend the small staircase into the crowd. His laser focus and razor-sharp wit puts Ferrante at the advantage of improvising, almost effortlessly, with any audience member he singles out. It’s also a testament to Rabe’s abilities as a musician that he can follow Ferrante from song to improv and barely miss a note. He proved himself during the first official show of An Evening with Groucho‘s three-week stint at the ACT Theater in Seattle, Washington as Ferrante frequently broke in an out of song to poke fun at a woman slouching in her chair.

And while Ferrante showcases the jokes, puns, and overall wordplay that made Groucho the unflappable performer, he’s just as adept at singing some of Groucho’s famous songs including “Hooray for Captain Spaulding”, “Hello, I Must Be Going”, “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It”, and “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”. But it’s through one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s songs from The Mikado, “Tit-willow”, a song the real Groucho sang when he performed as the Lord High Executioner in a production of the musical, that we see the softer, more contemplative Groucho. Here is Groucho the romantic, Groucho the intellectual. The man who regularly conversed with poet T.S. Eliot despite only having a sixth grade education. Ferrante presents a three-dimensional Groucho Marx, a man who was much more than his famous persona. And as each generation becomes more and more removed from the Marx Brothers, though interest in them ebbs and flows, An Evening with Groucho allows us to glimpse, for a brief ninety minutes, a man who was and always will be a comedic icon. Ferrante keeps him alive and vibrant, fully realizing the immortality of comedy and comedians through the passion and love of their fans.

Me and Groucho

To find where Frank will be performing An Evening with Groucho, you can go to his website, or check out his Facebook page and An Evening with Groucho‘s page for updates.

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