Groucho Marx “comes” to Ridgefield
The legendary comedian’s spirit in a theatrical version of PBS comedy tribute
**Exclusive for Townvibe readers, a chance to win two tickets to see "An Evening with Groucho" at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Saturday, March 19 at 7:30pm. Winner Selected.
Award-winning actor/director/playwright Frank Ferrante recreates his PBS, New York and London acclaimed portrayal of legendary comedian Groucho Marx in a fast paced, audience interactive show "An Evening with Groucho."
Ferrante portrays Groucho in his prime. He reacquaints us with the likes of brothers Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Gummo, and also Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, MGM’s Louis B. Mayer and other icons from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Groucho Marx had a 72 year career. Going from vaudeville, to radio, to movies like “Duck Soup” and “A Day at the Races,” to the TV show “Bet Your Life,” Groucho kept audiences laughing.
As an admirer of Groucho Marx’s comedic genius, I was interested to speak with Ferrante about his one-man show.
I was a long time fan of the Marx Brothers, especially Groucho and the comedy of that era. From the time I was nine years old and saw the movie “A Day at the Races”, the madness and freedom of the Marx Brothers exhilarated me and I never laughed so hard. It made a real impact on me and I wanted to be part of that world.
Groucho’s son Arthur Marx discovered you, how did that come about?
I created a show about Groucho as a senior project at the University of Southern California where I was a drama student in the mid 1980’s. I was able to produce, direct and create the whole show. It became kind of a big deal and I ended up inviting Groucho’s son and daughter and they actually showed up.
It was a very successful show and afterward Arthur Marx, who was a playwright, said “If I ever do a show about my dad I want to use you.”
And he did.
The year I graduated in 1986, there I was in an off-Broadway show “Groucho: a Life in Review” in which I played Groucho from age 15 to 85. And that show went to London. The reviews were incredible and it (and Ferrante) received a lot of awards and award nominations. It was a very heady experience.
Then in 1999 we filmed it for PBS at the Westport Country Playhouse and that became a National Pledge Break PBS special.
What did you learn from Groucho, so to speak?
I am extraordinarily grateful to him. I learned what a craftsman he was and he was relentless. He never quit. He was working and inspiring until his passing at 86 in 1997.
I am very close to his daughter Miriam (who is is 89.) His son Arthur and I were friends for 26 years. He passed away a few years ago. My respect for Groucho is reflected in my relationship with his two children.
Is there a secret to his success?
I don’t know that there was a secret. I think it was survival. He was very poor and there was a lot to lose. I think he was savvy about his persona being a wise guy. He had an honesty and a truth telling and that’s refreshing.
What should the audience in Ridgefield expect?
I try to exhilarate. The premise is: “What if Groucho had had a one-man show in 1934?” There are songs from his Broadway shows and movies. There are the one liners, but it is also anecdotal with stories about his brothers and others. What makes it electric is my interaction with the audience. I improvise parts. Spontaneity was his hallmark.
I think it holds up as entertainment, even if you don’t know Groucho. I can see that in the variety of ages at the show. There will be children in the audience and they are laughing at the same joke that the 35 year old is laughing at and a 90 year old is laughing at.
What is the key to a successful one-man show?
You have to really love your subject matter. Have a passion. Hal Halbrook is one of my heroes. He and I have become friendly in the last couple of years. He has done his show for 62 years as Mark Twain in “Mark Twain Tonight!” For me it has been 30 years doing Groucho. Halbrook is still out there at the age of 91 doing the show.
Did you know you were going to be an answer on Jeopardy?
No! A friend called me and said you were just an answer in the Off-Broadway category, I couldn’t believe it (“He took his portrayal of Groucho Marx to New York in 1986." The answer: "Who is Frank Ferrante?) And he got it right! It was Ken Jennings during his reign. It was very flattering. (Laughs) Maybe you’ve made it when we’ve been a question on Jeopardy (laughs again.)