Award-winning actor/director/playwright Frank Ferrante embodies the spirit of legendary comedian and performer Groucho Marx. An Evening with Groucho takes its name from Groucho’s live one-man show in the 1970s. Groucho’s 1972 Carnegie Hall performance was recorded and released as the double album An Evening with Groucho. Ferrante reprises his New York and London acclaimed role in this fast-paced 90 minutes of hilarity. Ferrante ad-libs in true Groucho style to include the audience in the fun. Accompanied by his onstage pianist, Jim Furmston, Ferrante portrays the young Groucho of stage and film and reacquaints us with the likes of brothers Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Gummo, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Greta Garbo, Margaret Dumont and MGM's Louis B. Mayer. The comedy, one-liners and songs of consummate entertainer Groucho Marx make for an all-ages treat.
The New York Times summed up the comedy genius as “America’s most gifted funny man.” Born Julius Henry Marx on October 2, 1890, Groucho was the third of five sons born to poor immigrant parents Sam and Minnie Marx. Chico and Harpo preceded him, and Gummo and Zeppo followed.
Straight from the streets of New York's upper Eastside, Groucho was thrust onstage at age 15 as one third of the singing Leroy Trio. Eventually, brothers Harpo, Chico, Gummo and Zeppo joined the act that began as the singing Four Nightingales and evolved into the world’s funniest vaudeville act known as the Marx Brothers. The Marx Brothers became the biggest comedic stars of the Palace Theatre, which billed itself as the “Valhalla of Vaudeville.”
After 20 years of touring all over the country, the Marx Brothers finally struck gold with the musical comedy revue I'll Say She Is. Audiences and critics went ballistic over the brothers’ irreverent humor, the expert pantomime, the wisecracks, the physical shtick and the outrageous musical talent. I'll Say She Is moved to Broadway in 1924 and was an instant sensation legitimizing the Marx Brothers as world-class talents. No comedy routine had ever infiltrated the hallowed Broadway circuit, but reports are unanimous that Broadway audiences were just as convulsed with laughter as the vaudeville ones had been. Said one Philadelphia critic about the show, “It was as if a tornado hit town. We've never seen anything like the Marx Brothers.” Two more Broadway hits followed; The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers, which introduced audiences to Groucho's most renowned incarnation—Captain Spalding, the African explorer.
In 1930, Groucho and his brothers moved to Hollywood and changed the face of film comedy forever. There they made Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, Room Service, At the Circus, Go West, The Big Store, A Night in Casablanca and Love Happy between 1931 and 1949. Groucho Marx made 26 movies, thirteen of them with his brothers Chico and Harpo. Marx developed a routine as a wise-cracking hustler with a distinctive chicken-walking lope, an exaggerated greasepaint moustache and eyebrows, and an ever-present cigar, improvising insults to stuffy dowagers (often played by Margaret Dumont) and anyone else who stood in his way.
The Four Marx Brothers appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1932. Groucho launched a solo career on radio and television with his Emmy Award-winning work as the host of the comedy quiz show You Bet Your Life. The show flourished for 14 highly rated seasons from 1947 to 1961 on ABC radio then NBC television. Groucho was a major fixture in 1950s television with his “secret woid” and a duck that dropped from the sky to pay wacky contestants “an extra hundred dollars.” His work made him one of the most popular TV personalities of 1950 and earned him an Emmy as Outstanding Personality that same year.
In the late 1960s, a renewed interest in the anarchic hijinks of the Marx Brothers swept across the nation - particularly among college age students. Fortunately, Groucho Marx survived long enough to experience his renaissance. In addition to his numerous contributions to film and media, Groucho Marx has also written three books: the autobiography Groucho and Me; The Groucho Letters: Letters from and to Groucho Marx; and Memoirs of a Mangy Lover. Groucho made TV appearances, performed at Carnegie Hall at age 82 and received a special Academy Award® in 1974 for “the brilliant and unequalled achievements of the Marx Brothers.” On August 19, 1977, Groucho Marx died at age 86. His final request? “Bury me next to Marilyn Monroe.”
A Trademark Look
Groucho was almost impossible to recognize without his trademark glasses, or fake eyebrows and moustache. The greasepaint moustache and eyebrows originated spontaneously. Before a vaudeville performance, Groucho did not have time to apply the pasted-on moustache he had been using (or, according to his autobiography, simply did not enjoy the removal of the moustache every night because of the effects of tearing an adhesive bandage off the same patch of skin every night). After applying the greasepaint moustache, a quick glance in the mirror revealed his natural eyebrows did not match his new facial hair, so Marx added the greasepaint to his eyebrows and headed for the stage.
The exaggerated walk, with one hand on the small of his back and his torso bent almost 90 degrees at the waist was a parody of a fad from the 1880s and 1890s. Fashionable young men of the upper classes would affect a walk with their right hand held fast to the base of their spines, and with a slight lean forward at the waist and a very slight twist toward the right with the left shoulder, allowing the left hand to swing free with the gait. Groucho exaggerated this fad to a marked degree, and the comedic effect was enhanced by how out of date the affectation was by the 1920s and 30s.
Many Groucho-like characters and Groucho references have appeared in popular culture, even long after his death and aimed at audiences who would never have seen a Marx Brothers movie, providing a testament to the character's lasting appeal. Groucho's glasses, nose, moustache, and cigar have become icons of comedy—to this day, glasses with fake noses and moustaches, referred to as “Groucho glasses” or “nose-glasses,” resembling Groucho are still sold by novelty and costume shops.
Frank Ferrante (Groucho) is an actor, director, and producer described by The New York Times as “the greatest living interpreter of Groucho Marx’s material.” Animal Crackers and A Night at the Opera co-author Morrie Ryskind called him “the only actor aside from Groucho who delivered my lines as they were intended.” Discovered by Groucho’s son Arthur Marx when Ferrante was a drama student at the University of Southern California, Ferrante originated the off-Broadway title role in Groucho: A Life in Revue (written by Arthur and Robert Fisher) portraying the comedian from age 15 to 85. For this role, Ferrante won the 1987 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.’ Ferrante played the Groucho role in the off-Broadway revival of The Cocoanuts and has played Captain Spalding in the several productions of Animal Crackers.
In 2001, Ferrante starred in, directed and produced the national PBS television program Groucho: A Life in Revue. In 2007 he became a question on the classic TV program Jeopardy. “He took his portrayal of Groucho Marx to New York in 1986.” The answer: “Who is Frank Ferrante?”
Jim Furmston (Musical director/piano) enjoys a versatile career as recitalist, accompanist, and composer. A graduate of the U.S.C. Thornton School of Performing Arts, Furmston was invited to perform a debut recital at New York’s Lincoln Center. After college, Furmston was in demand as a session player for television and film and as a coach for many singers. In Hollywood, Furmston accompanies many stars, collaborating over the years with Nell Carter, Joel Grey, Sally Struthers, Jane Seymour, Jeff Goldblum, David Hasselhoff, Marni Nixon and Greg Marx (Gummo Marx’s grandson) to name a few. Furmston began his collaboration with Frank Ferrante in 1983 and has accompanied Ferrante in An Evening with Groucho since the premiere in 1984.
Groucho’s Cutting Wit
“Although it is generally known, I think it's about time to announce that I was born at a very early age.”
“Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.”
“Smoking won't hurt you. I've been smoking for years, and aside from the fact that I feel terrible all the time it hasn't hurt me, either!”
“From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend to read it.”
“Marriage is a wonderful institution. But who wants to live in an institution?”
“A moose is an animal with horns on the front of his head and a hunting lodge wall on the back of it.”
“Die, my dear? Why that's the last thing I'll do!”
“Quote me as saying I was misquoted.”