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Thursday, June 20, 2013


When it comes to spending "An Evening With Groucho," once is never enough.

Frank Ferrante as Grouch Marx     photo courtesy of ACT - A Contemporary Theatre
That was my conclusion after attending the show by that name, now playing at ACT- A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle. It runs June 13-30 in the Bullit Cabaret, presented by The Central Heating Lab and is a return visit by Frank Ferrante, a actor and director who impersonates the famous comedian Groucho Marx so perfectly it's spooky. No wonder he has been a sensation in New York, London, and on PBS. You can experience a taste of his transformation from Ferrante to Marx in the video below.

See how he seems to acually become Marx right there on stage as the audience watches.

I had witnessed Ferrante doing his thing at ACT a year ago (see review from 2012) and wondered if it would feel like nothing more than a rerun. But at the matinee last Sundaytechnically "An Afternoon With Groucho"I realized two things almost immediately: 1.) Even with some of the same aspects, the show felt freshly entertaining, and 2.) Watching Ferrante think on his feet with lightning-fast reactions, for a second time, made him seem even more amazing than I my initial impression. And that is saying a great deal.

Some might call it a one-man show, but Ferrante's accompanist on piano—this time the talented Mark Rabe—played not only the baby grand but also an important role as the straight man. His facial expressions and reactions to Ferrante's lines were right on, and even though he uttered only a few words, he packed them with punch. He is also a fine musician who played the instrument beautifully.

photo courtesy of ACT- A Contemporary Theatre

While giving us a picture of the personal and professional lives of Marx and his famous brothers, he also spoke the famous lines we wanted to hear, danced, sang songs, acted silly, leaped onto the couch or piano, impressing us with his athleticism. But best of all, Ferrante did just what his idol would do; he connected with individuals in the audience and poked fun at them with off-the-cuff humor that, while never really mean, was absolutely hilarious, as humane as humiliation can be. And there was no way that any of this had been rehearsed. Of that, I'm sure. At every performance he faces a different crowd and finds funny ways to make them squirm as he fires off comments and questions that crack up everyone. Even if the show incorporates some of Marx's classic bits, the spontaneity of Ferrante's wit makes every performance new. And since they are selling out, I recommend you order your tickets right now.

Since I happened to see the show on Fathers Day, the packed audience at 2 p.m. included a surprising number of children and teenagers. If you're thinking of bringing your own, go right ahead. Neither the language or innuendos should give you cause for concern and are certainly far, far more tame than what kids hear every day. Ferrante interacted with many of these young folks, and I thought treated them very nicely. He teased only gently and they clamoured for his attention.

Let me put it this way; there was only one Grouch Marx, but I doubt his talents were any greater than those of his impersonator. I'm sure he feels honored. You bet your life.
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