Okay, okay. Groucho's dead and gone 32 years now, but the next best thing to seeing him live and in his prime is Frank Ferrante's An Evening With Groucho live show. I first saw him do it down San Diego way (Escondido to be precise) in 2005. You can read about that show here. But you can see Frank as Groucho each of the 2,000 times he's performed the show and I'd be willing to bet you'd never see the same show twice.
Part scripted biographical sketch, part Groucho songfest, part--the BEST part--total adlib audience participation orgy of laughter, AEWG is quite simply one of the most amazing things I've ever seen in a theater. I've read a lot about Groucho and his brothers and the one thing missing from any of their filmed performances is that elusive butterfly of spur of the moment FUN: the Marxes were famous for going off-script in all their live shows, from Vaudeville to Broadway to television, and on any given night you'd see something hilarious for the very first time. You Bet Your Life tried to capture that on TV, allowing contestants to interact in such a way as they played straight man--and woman--to the one, the only Groucho, but let's face it, it was TV in the '50s. The funniest parts couldn't be shown.
I think Ferrante perfectly captures what it must have been like to sit in a 1920s Broadway theater and watch Groucho and company go about their daily business. The Jewish Community Center theater in San Francisco is a fairly small place, and Frank was just one short hop from the first row, a hop he took many times. He immediately honed in on a number of front row dwellers, including a woman named Betty, and an older man with a bald head and an impressive white beard. He promptly made him stand up and pointed to himself and the other guy and said, "Groucho Marx and Karl Marx."
I'd do Frank a horrible disservice trying to capture in words what he does on stage. He was having so much fun tweaking the audience on Saturday night that I don't think he finished a few of the scripted bits of the show, including the story of Chico working for a paper company. But none of that matters, really. I'd pay good money to see Ferrante just come out and throw away the script and do 90 minutes of business with just the audience. (I'd miss the songs, though, and Frank's own distaff version of Margaret Dumont, pianist Jim Furmston, who is great, also.)
For those of you in the Southern California area, Frank/Groucho is appearing this Sunday, March 8, at the La Mirada Theater. Frank is touring as Groucho through the end of May. Upcoming performances include Ridgecrest, CA; Joliet, IL; Bothell, WA; and Johnstown, PA. Click here for the entire schedule, and if you go, hang out after and say hi to Frank and Jim and buy their DVD and CD...and most importantly, tell them Innocent Bystander (Gary) sent you. After he slaps your face and calls you an upstart, he'll settle down. Trust me.