As Frank Ferrante sees it, “We all want to be Groucho… to be that wild, irreverent pulverizer of those in power.”
In the years since the 1977 passing of the celebrated performer, author and game show host, one man above all others has worked tirelessly to keep the spirit of Groucho Marx alive and kicking before contemporary audiences. And this Sunday, Frank Ferrante returns to the Count Basie Theatre for an encore presentation of his acclaimed stage show, An Evening with Groucho.
During his prime on the vintage Broadway stage and in early-talkies Hollywood, there was arguably no greater pulverizer of power (or puncturer of pomp and pretension) than Groucho Marx, the fast-talking, duck-walking, de facto leader of those comic agents of anarchy, the Marx Brothers.
While his celebrity stock may wax and wane with the popcultural tide, his is one instantly recognizable, truly iconic look: the painted-on mustache and eyebrows; the cigar brandished like both the pen and the sword; the antique specs, skinny tie and swallowtail jacket. To say nothing of the semi-automatic salvos of cultural references, put-downs and puns.
“Nowadays so much of how we entertain ourselves has an interactive element to it,” says the West Coast-based actor and director. “Most standup comics know this, and the best of them can really draw the audience into the show.”
“The audience wants to get something that only happens that night,” adds Ferrante in reference to the act that he estimates as being one-third fully improvised. “That’s what Groucho’s magic was, really…the ability to create comedy on the spot.”
Thus, when An Evening with Groucho returns to Red Bank on its tour celebrating the 125th Birthday year of Julius Henry Marx, attendees will get to hear Groucho commenting on our present-day presidential circus and other 21st century follies; offering observations on audience members, and quizzing people for the kind of comic-gold details he employed to such great effect on the old You Bet Your Life program.
At the same time, there’s plenty of familiar favorite material to be found within the 90-minute, all-ages friendly tour de farce — including canonical Marxist quotes, anecdotes about some of the biggest names in golden-age show business, and such signature silly songs as “Hooray for Captain Spaulding,” “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” and the great “lost” theme “Doctor Hackenbush.”
“At times, I have to say I feel like I’m a rock star. I get to thinking, this is how strong his persona is, to this day,” adds Ferrante, the lifelong “classic comedians” fan who actually got an audience with the frail and aged Groucho in 1976. “As far as being Groucho, I couldn’t have taken it any further than this.”
The event unfolds at the oddball hour of 4 pm, in an intimate new setting within the landmark Monmouth Street building. Take it here for tickets ($39, $49) to Sunday’s intimately scaled performance at the Basie.