What if Groucho Marx had his own one-man show in the 1930s? What would it have been like?
“This is the type of thing I think he would have come up with,” said Frank Ferrante. “You don’t have to know him to appreciate the wit and the silliness and the absurdity. The irreverence is what’s fun.”
Ferrante, an award-winning actor, director and playwright, brings his one-man show, “An Evening with Groucho Marx,” to the Raue Center for Performing Arts at 8 p.m. May 17.
The show is a tribute to the legendary comedian Groucho Marx and consists of the best Groucho one-liners, anecdotes and songs including “Hooray For Captain Spalding” and “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady.”
Ferrante, 51, was first introduced to the comedy of Groucho Marx when he saw “A Day at the Races.”
“I became completely enamored and exhilarated,” he said. “I started re-enacting those scenes with my brother. I was playing Groucho and he was playing Chico. Then I went to my local library and started researching the Marx Brothers and comedians of that era.”
When he was 22, Groucho’s son Arthur Marx saw him perform a one-man show as Groucho at the University of Southern California where he was studying theater and hired him to portray his father in his show, “Groucho: A Life in Revue.” A year later, he went to Broadway with that show.
The show Crystal Lake audiences will see is a refined version of that show Arthur Marx saw all those years ago. It’s Groucho Marx in his heyday of the 1920s and ’30s.
“In keeping with that era, there’s a lot of songs and stories that relate to that period about his brothers and his peers of that era — Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields,” he said. “The highlight for me is the improv, which I do quite a bit of in the show. There’s a lot of audience interaction and improv in the show.”
About a third of the show is improvised and involves audience participation, he said.
“That’s really the joy of the show, I think,” he said.
This role takes up about three months of the year, allowing him to work on other projects. He stars as the Latin lover Caesar in the cirque show “Teatro ZinZanni” in San Francisco and Seattle. He also had a role in Rob Corddrey’s Emmy Award-winning comedy “Children’s Hospital” as a speaking mime, and lends his voice to the animated cartoon series “Garfield.”
He continues to write, direct and produce other works as well. But Groucho is a great role to return to, he said.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do what I love and what I’m passionate about,” he said.
He hopes to introduce audiences that have never seen Groucho’s work or are just vaguely aware of him to the comedy of Groucho Marx.
“It’s the kind of show it doesn’t matter if you like Groucho or the Marx Brothers or even know who they are. The bottom line, it’s a belly-laugh show,” he said. “My goal is to make them laugh and laugh hard. That’s what I’m shooting for.”