Thursday, November 24, 2016

AN EVENING WITH GROUCHO



Written and performed by Frank Ferrante
Directed by Dreya Weber
Accompanist Alex Wignall
Presented by Jally Entertainment
Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, November 22nd – 25th. 2016

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Frank Ferrante claims to have performed this show more than 3000 times in more than 400 cities around the world. More remarkable then, that his performance remains so fresh and engaging as he brings to life one of the more memorable performers of the last century.

Groucho was the most articulate and best known of the five Marx Brothers who achieved world-wide fame through a succession of wacky films during the 40’s and 50’s.  After the brothers stopped making films, Groucho transitioned successfully into stage and television achieving considerable success as a TV host, and celebrity guest.

However, you don’t have to be a Marx Brothers enthusiast to enjoy “An Evening with Groucho”. It‘s a class show which succeeds on the brilliance of Frank Ferrante, and its sheer entertainment value.
The stage is furnished with pieces which might have been sourced from the back lot of a film studio. A velvet settee and lounge chair, an antique side table, some potted palms and a Marx Brothers movie poster. Seated at the baby grand situated to the side, accompanist and stooge, Alex Wignall , commences the show with a short overture, until Frank Ferrante arrives on stage, dressed as …….himself.
Frank Ferrante as Groucho Marx 

He introduces himself, offers a brief explanation of his life-long fascination with Groucho, and begins to apply make-up, tousling his hair, adding thick black eye-brows and finally the black slash across his top lip. His whole demeanour changes as before our eyes he becomes, unmistakably, Groucho Marx.

Then scampering around the stage, in that instantly recognisable Grouch Marx walk, fires off a succession of  shamefully corny vaudeville songs like “Hello I Must be Going”,  “Hooray, Hooray, Hooray,” and of course, “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”. Between songs, he talks in the first person as Groucho, to share reminiscences about his brothers, and the films in which they appeared, as well as perform hilarious excerpts from some of Groucho’s film routines.

Every so often, as Groucho himself did, he engages unsuspecting audience members in wickedly cheeky improvisations, his hilarious, lightning fast responses demonstrating his total mastery of the quick wit associated with Groucho.

He offers  an affectionate tribute to film co-star Margaret Dumont, and confides how such well known performers as Charlie Chaplin, W.C.Fields, Ed Metcalf and even Gilbert and Sullivan, influenced his comedic style, even surprising with a charming version of “Tit-Willow” from “The Mikado”.

Throughout, Adelaide pianist Alex Wignall provided skilful accompaniments to the songs, cheerfully joined in the jokes, and even participated in a remarkable duet during which Ferrante performed multiple push-ups on the baby grand.

“An Evening with Groucho” is a tour-de-force performance by Frank Ferrante which is not only hugely entertaining, but also a brilliant and affectionate reminder of the comedic skills  employed by entertainers in the heydays of vaudeville.

 
Frank Ferrante as himself 

This review also appears in Australian Arts Review www.artsreview.com.au

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