By Susan Wallner
State of the Arts
Add a cigar to the glasses with the big mustache and eyebrows sold at costume shops everywhere, and you have the beginnings of a Groucho Marx impersonation. But conjuring the full Groucho, with his distinctive walk, talk and facial expressions, takes a master. Bring on Frank Ferrante, called “the greatest living interpreter of Groucho Marx’s material” by the New York Times. His one-man show, “An Evening with Groucho,” has played in more than 400 cities. It will play two more in New Jersey this weekend.
Trailer: An Evening With Groucho, starring Frank Ferrante
“I loved the Marx Brothers from the moment I saw them when I was about 9 years old in ‘A Day at the Races,’” says Ferrante, now 50. “I became completely thrilled by their wildness, and I set out to see every movie I could see… I was a shy boy and I felt empowered by their antics. Their wildness, the physical shenanigans and the verbal interplay; it was really exhilarating.”
At the University of Southern California in the early 1980s, Frank studied theater. For his senior project, he wrote and starred in an early version of “An Evening with Groucho.” He invited Arthur Marx, Groucho’s son and a playwright, to his student production. They went on to work together professionally, and became close personally as well. Ferrante considered Arthur Marx, who died in 2011, a second father.
In this Jersey Arts Podcast, Susan Wallner talks to Ferrante about playing Groucho Marx, including the time he met the great comedian shortly before his death.
The most popular and unpredictable part of “An Evening with Groucho,” is Ferrante’s interaction with the audience. Based on a deep knowledge of Groucho Marx’s material and his own creative interpretation, Ferrante brings Groucho’s subversive, outrageous humor to life. Morrie Ryskind, co-author of the Marx Brothers hits “Animal Crackers” and “A Night at the Opera,” once said that Ferrante “is the only actor aside from Groucho who delivered my lines as they were intended to be.”
“I grew up with Groucho’s rhythms and I’d never laughed that hard, laughed to the point of crying,” says Ferrante. “It was wonderfully brash and insulting and inappropriate.” This uniquely gifted actor brings his night of comedy, appropriate for all ages, to New Jersey this weekend. “An Evening with Groucho” will be at Algonquin Arts Theatre in Manasquan on July 12 and Centenary Stage in Hackettstown on July 13.