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Next Act Theatre's 'Groucho' takes you back on nostalgic trip

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

November 21, 2013

 

WAUKESHA - We have been treated to the likes of the Marx Brothers before. “Cocoanuts,” “Animal Crackers” and “A Day in Hollywood” have all graced Milwaukee stages in recent years.  However, the Next Act Theatre’s present production of “Groucho: A Life in Revue” is a bit different in its flavor.  Though it does showcase the comedy so characteristic of this inimitable group - slapstick, puns, insults, mugging - it has a nostalgic ambience. We find ourselves amused but also moved by some of the stories it highlights.

Perhaps the fact that this show was written by Groucho’s son Arthur in collaboration with Robert Fisher, a friend who also knew Groucho intimately, accounts for its very personal and human touch. Whatever it is, it is a very satisfying retrospective look at three brothers who entertained us for half a century and made their lasting mark on American comedy.

Bringing Groucho Marx back to life is a role that Norman Moses has mastered over the years. He even looks like him. His musical abilities are also a good match. Groucho is the narrator of this biographical show. He traces the early history of the family and its involvement in show biz and also humanizes his brothers with personal tidbits about their lives off stage.

His honest references to his own three failed marriages and some of his personal regrets also humanize him. The last scene when he is interviewed at 87 shortly before he died is very touching. Despite the many changes in the ups and downs of their careers, they remained grounded as brothers. Sadly for Groucho, the oldest, Chico, and Harpo both died more than a decade before him. Like many comedians, there is often a sense of tragedy behind their comic facades.

His sibling compatriots Chico and Harpo are also delightfully represented by David Cecsarini and Chris Klopatek, respectively, a welcome sight after several years in absentia from the Milwaukee theater scene. 

The versatile Cecsarini has captured Chico’s mannerisms perfectly, and Klopatek’s Harpo is absolutely lovable. Chico’s interactions with Jack Forbes Wilson at the piano and Harpo’s ballet with the living harp are both unforgettable. The fifth and sixth contributors to this playful entourage are Alexandra Bonesho and Chase Stoeger, both of whom play many roles. Bonesho is especially versatile in representing some of the important women in Groucho’s life.

Rich Rasmussen’s scenic design is fairly simplistic but very functional for smooth changes over a long span of time. Costume designer Lyndsey Kuhlmann made some wonderful choices for the re-incarnation of this inimitable group and some of the women who entered their lives. With her extensive involvement with the Marx Brothers’ style and their many hits, Pam Kriger did an impressive job of resurrecting these iconic entertainers.

A sold-out crowd on opening night attests to the interest in this revue, as well as an appreciation for the dependable quality of theater provided at Next Act. And there’s also plentiful free parking, always a bonus.

“Groucho - a Revue” runs through Dec. 8 at Next Act Theatre, 225 S. Water St., Milwaukee. For show times and tickets, call 414-278-7780 or visit www.nextact.org.