Ninety-five years ago, Groucho Marx hit the stage at the Walnut Street Theatre in the Marx Brothers’ musical ‘I’ll Say She Is.’ In 2022, Marx is back at the historic venue in Philadelphia—or well, his spirit is at least.
Award-winning actor and director Frank Ferrante (a Walnut Street favorite) will be taking on the role of Marx for one performance only later this month. Hailed by the New York Times as “the greatest living interpreter of Groucho Marx’s material,” Ferrante will put on a 90-minute show matching the fast-paced energy of the comedic legend.
What audiences can expect for both acts produced during the show is a slew of the best Groucho one-liners, anecdotes, and songs such as ‘Hooray for Captain Spalding,’ and ‘Lydia, the Tattooed Lady.’ While on stage with his pianist, the actor and director will reacquaint us with the likes of brothers Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Gummo, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields and more. The audience also becomes part of the show as Ferrante will engage them throughout the performance.
Ferrante’s love of the great performer is not quite self-imposed either. Discovered by Groucho’s son—Arthur Marx—when he was a drama student at the University of Southern California, Arthur went on to write ‘Groucho: A Life in Revue’, and selected Ferrante to originate the off-Broadway title role.
When the show premiered then in London’s West End at the Comedy Theatre in the summer of 1987, Ferrante received a nomination for the Laurence Olivier Award for “Comedy Performance of the Year.” He then recreated the role for the Walnut Street Theatre in the 1992-1993 season.
Patrons of the oldest theatre in the country will recognize Ferrante’s work as well.
As a release states, at the Walnut, Frank has directed and performed in the Walnut Street Theatre’s productions of Ken Ludwig’s ‘A Comedy of Tenors,’ ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,’ and ‘Laughter on The 23rd Floor.’ He has also directed a slew of shows spanning ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs,’ ‘Biloxi Blues,’ and ‘Broadway Bound and Lost in Yonkers.’ At Walnut’s Independence Studio on 3, Ferrante wrote and starred in ‘By George’ and directed the world premiere of ‘Old Wicked Songs’, a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Ferrante also continues to perform his comic creation ‘The Caesar’ in cirque/cabaret venues worldwide.
Dreya Weber, who last appeared at the Walnut in Ken Ludwig’s ‘A Comedy of Tenors’ will be directing ‘Groucho,’ and she has also worked as director with Ferrante on previous productions such as ‘An Evening with Groucho’ at Seattle’s ACT, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the Pasadena Playhouse, the Bucks County Playhouse, and Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park (all in extended runs.)
Her most recent credits also include a show at the Faena Theater in Miami, ‘Sensatia’, which she directed and choreographed. Weber is also an accomplished aerialist and has conceived aerial choreography for PINK’s ‘Glitter in the Air’ and ‘Try for the Grammys,’ Michael Jackson’s ‘This is It,’ Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Madonna, and Cher.
Ferrante’s pianist, Gerald Sternbach, has also accompanied the show for quite some time in other venues such as the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park and the Bucks County Playhouse. An in-demand music director and accompanist, he has worked with a variety of artists including Mel Brooks, Carrie Fisher, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett, and Josh Groban.
As mentioned before, the first time the Walnut Street Theatre saw the Marx Brothers was in 1923. As a release describes, when transitioning from vaudeville to the legitimate stage, the Brothers debuted their first show ‘I’ll Say She Is’ there. Following critical acclaim at the Walnut, the show went on to tour nationally before opening on Broadway. It was during this show that Groucho’s signature painted mustache was created. Running late for a show one night, he used greasepaint instead of a glued-on mustache. He found it a much easier routine and decided to keep it as part of his routine.
Frank Ferrante’s ‘Groucho’ will run for one matinee performance only at Walnut Street Theatre, Saturday, March 12 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $17 – $37, and VIP tickets, which include a post-show reception, are available for $77. For tickets and information, call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787. Information and tickets are also available online at WalnutStreetTheatre.org or Ticketmaster.com.