One of the biggest downsides to being a classic film fan from the Millennial generation is that you often never have the chance to interact with or encounter many of your favorite stars. Most of my favorite stars either died before I was born or when I was really young and didn’t have a chance to appreciate them yet. So I never got to go to a Judy Garland concert, see Chaplin on the stage in his vaudeville days, see Bette Davis in one of her stage performances, see Garbo walking around New York City, or write a fan letter to Joan Crawford. And I definitely never had the chance to see the Marx Brothers perform live, whether it was in their vaudeville days, during their Broadway career, or when they were on the road testing out material for A Night at the Opera.
But recently, I had the chance to see the next best thing to seeing Groucho Marx perform live when Frank Ferrante brought his “An Evening With Groucho” show to the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township, Michigan. Ferrante is a long-time Marx Brothers fan who has been performing as Groucho on stage in various shows for about 30 years. He was discovered by Groucho’s own son, Arthur Marx, while he was a drama student at the University of Southern California and was cast as Groucho in Arthur’s off-Broadway show “Groucho: A Life in Revue,” covering Groucho’s life from age 15 to 85. Ferrante’s performance drew lots of acclaim, including rave reviews from Groucho’s children and colleagues. He went on to play Groucho’s roles in productions of “The Cocoanuts” and “Animal Crackers.” Over the years, Ferrante has performed as Groucho over 2,500 times.
Ferrante’s act is no ordinary tribute act. Although his shows are, indeed, very loving tributes to Groucho, he does so much more than just put on the greasepaint mustache, pick up a cigar, and do his best rendition of “Hooray for Captain Spaulding.” Ferrante manages to bring Groucho’s stage persona to life again. He has Groucho’s voice, all the signature movements, and all his mannerisms down perfectly; it’s absolutely uncanny.
The “An Evening With Groucho” show is full of some of Groucho’s signature quips, stories, movie lines, and songs. But during the show, Ferrante gives himself plenty of chances to interact with the audience and ad-lib and he does so in pure Groucho style. If you’re going to ad lib while performing as Groucho, you have to be as quick witted as Groucho and Ferrante nails it. It’s all so incredibly dead on, when you watch Ferrante perform, it’s quite easy to forget that you aren’t actually watching Groucho Marx. Morrie Ryskind, who co-wrote The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, and A Night at the Opera has said of Ferrante, “(he) is the only actor aside from Groucho who delivered my lines as they were intended to be.”
If you ever have the chance to see Ferrante perform as Groucho, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’ve ever found yourself wishing you had a time machine so you could go back and see the Marx Brothers perform live, this show lets you feel like you’ve had that experience. “An Evening With Groucho” was the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while. It’s been a few days since I saw this show and I’m still laughing about random parts of it that pop into my head. I’m still in awe of what a brilliant job Ferrante does in playing Groucho. It was an absolutely delightful show that I’d love to see again someday.