Spend An Evening with Groucho at Paramount
By Randall G. Mielke For Sun-Times Media April 13, 2012 3:34PM
Frank Ferrante in An Evening with Groucho will be at the Paramount on April 20. | File Photo
‘An Evening with Groucho’
♦ 7 p.m. April 20
♦ Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora
♦ Tickets, $25-$35
♦ (630) 896-6666
Updated: April 20, 2012 10:49AM
When actor, director and playwright Frank Ferrante takes the stage to perform as legendary comedian Groucho Marx, Ferrante is doing more than an impression of the comedic icon.
“I have respect for the skills of impersonators, but I never considered myself that,” Ferrante said. “You take on the imitation and trappings of the guy, but it needs soul and heart. The show rests in its spirit. It is not an embalmed tribute show. It is an evolving portrait.”
“An Evening with Groucho” starring Frank Ferrante will be presented on Friday, April 20, at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.
“The show is ever evolving,” Ferrante continued. “The improvisation in the show has become more prominent, and the ad-libbing. I’ve learned that is what the audience responds to. Also, it makes it more interesting for me. In this way, every show is different.
“The improvisation is what makes Groucho invigorating,” Ferrante said. “Many of the films The Marx Brothers did were very improvisational. The TV show that Groucho hosted, ‘You Bet Your Life’ was very improvisational.”
Ferrante originated the Off-Broadway title role in “Groucho: A Life in Revue” (written by Groucho Marx’s son, Arthur Marx) portraying the comedian from age 15 to 85. For this role, Ferrante won 1987’s New York’s Theatre World Award and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. He reprised the role in London’s West End and was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for “Comedy Performance of the Year.” The show eventually aired as a national television special on PBS in 2001.
In “An Evening with Groucho,” Ferrante portrays the young Groucho of stage and film and reacquaints the audience with the likes of brothers Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Gummo; Charlie Chaplin; and Marx foil Margaret Dumont. Accompanied by his onstage pianist, Jim Furmston, the production features several songs including “Hooray For Captain Spalding,” and “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady.”
“Some of this material is 80 to 90 years old,” Ferrante said. “I try to make it feel current. I relate information about others of that time — like Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields — I demonstrate Groucho’s style, his walk, his look.
“The concept for me is that this is what he would have done in 1934 if he had done a one-man show,” Ferrante continued. “It has a free-flowing feel to it.”
Ferrante realizes that most people who grew up watching Groucho and his brothers have passed away.
“His audience is gone,” Ferrante said. “I play to a crowd that wants to see a comedy show. This show is its own thing. It has its appeal because Groucho was free-spirited and a rule breaker.”
It was Groucho’s rule breaking that first got Ferrante interested in the comic legend.
“I first saw Groucho in a Marx Brothers movie on TV when I was 9 years old,” Ferrante said in a 2009 interview. “The movie was ‘A Day at the Races’ and I was amazed at the freedom they had. They intrigued me because they were rule breakers — not at all like me when I was growing up.”
With “An Evening with Groucho,” Ferrante wants to communicate what he experienced as a child.
“This show is a way of sharing,” he said. “Before I go on stage I say to myself, ‘Share the joy you had when you were 9 years old.’”