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Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Photo: Courtesy of Frank Ferrante
I am not one to read the same book, or watch the same movie, twice, but I could hardly wait for my third chance to see the amazing actor Frank Ferrante portray his idol, Groucho Marx, in "Groucho Returns" at Seattle's ACT Theatre. It made no difference that I had already reviewed "An Evening With Groucho" in 2012 and again in 2013 (See "'An Evening With Groucho' is An Evening Well Spent.") Called "Groucho Returns" in this instance, the show's variety of songs, history, anecdotes, piano music by straight man sidekick, Mark Rabe, and Ferrante's totally unpredictable interaction with the audience, will fill the seats while it plays through August 24. The show is a production of The Central Heating Lab and directed by Dreya Weber. Don't wait too long to get your tickets.

The stage in the Bullitt Cabaret at ACT—which Ferrante's Groucho irreverently refers to as "the dungeon" occupied by a "motley looking crowd"—the stage seemed just as I remembered it: piano, sofa, Oriental rugs, heavy draperies, tables, lamps, books, and parlor palm, typical of the 20th Century's first decade. If I hadn't already met Ferrante, I probably wouldn't have paid attention to the handsome, dark haired man wearing a trench coat and beret who quietly blended in with people entering the theater, only to pass through the room and disappear through a door in the back before reappearing shortly after, on the stage. Then, we'd watch him put on his makeup, hear his voice magically begin to change, and see him pick up his cigar. Right before our eyes, Ferrante would become Groucho Marx. After all, he has spent the past 30 years studying and impersonating his favorite of the Marx brothers.

Photo: Courtesy of Frank Ferrante
So why would I want to see this show every time it returns to Seattle? Even though he has performed it over and over for years, even in London, New York, Australia, and on PBS, it is never the same. It is always engaging and full of surprises. I suspect that being in the presence of the real Groucho gave people the same edgy anticipation the audience feels at ACT, never knowing whether or not they will be one of the people on whom the ad lib humor is focused. If you are, you'd better be a good sport. It's never mean spirited, but could cause blushing. You also never know what will come out of his Ferrante's mouth, and that's part of the fun. Then there are the timeless Groucho lines, songs, and antics. People in Seattle seem to thrive on this, and Ferrante thrives on Seattle.

Photo: Courtesy of Frank Ferrante
I asked him to describe what he likes best about this area. He mentioned the vital Seattle theater scene, the audiences, and the creative talent pool in this city, as well as the natural beauty and sense of community as reasons he loves to come back.

"I have opportunity here to evolve my interactive brand of theater, performing hundreds of times improvising in Teatro ZinZanni as 'The Caesar' and returning now for a third summer at ACT with 'Groucho.' Both of the these venues emphasize live stage comedy performance, and for that I am grateful."

That sense of gratitude was one thing that struck me this time around and is likely a factor in this actor's great success. The charming differences from one performance of his tribute show to another, on this occasion included what I personally felt was a greater revelation of who Ferrante himself really is—a grateful, appreciative, and very nice man, in addition to one so talented. At the end of the evening, when the ghost of Groucho had said his goodbyes in a most touching and memorable way, Ferrante became himself again and expressed his thanks to Kurt Beattie, Carlo Scandiuzzi, and Alyssa Byer of ACT, as well as Norman Langill, founder of Teatro ZinZanni. He was not acting when he showed his warmth and sincerity.

If you're too young to remember Groucho Marx's movies or TV show, "You Bet Your Life," it doesn't really matter. He wasn't the only master of impromptu comedy and crazy antics. As you will see, even as Frank Ferrante celebrates the famous Groucho Marx, he is every bit as good, and that's enough reason for me to drive to Seattle every time "Groucho Returns." I hope ACT will have him back next year so I can go a fourth time. It's a happy habit. 

Now, here's a taste: 

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