Former drama student turns into a one-man Groucho Marx show
Frank Ferrante will bring his one-man show about Groucho Marx to York on March 5
"One morning, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I don't know."
Groucho Marx delivered that famous line in the 1930 Marx Brothers film comedy "Animal Crackers." The wisecracking comedian played the equally wise guy explorer Captain Spaulding.
Growing up in Sierra Madre, California, outside Los Angeles, Frank Ferrante cherished the kind of quips Groucho would toss off with such mapcap ease. Ferrante and his brother would reenact scenes from Marx Brothers comedies.
"I was taken by their spirit," he said. "They were so wild and anti-everything. I was laughing until I was in tears."
Fast forward to 1985. Ferrante, a drama student at the University of Southern California, writes a one-man show about Groucho for a school project. Ferrante, who also starred in the piece, gets up the nerve to mail invitations to Groucho's son Arthur asking him to come see the performance.
Very early one morning, the phone rings in Ferrante's dorm room. Ferrante's asleep. His roomate picks up the phone. On the other end is a slightly annoyed Arthur Marx wanting to know what this college kid's one-man show about Groucho is all about. Ferrante's roomate convinces Arthur to come catch the performance.
Arthur loves the show and a year later, Ferrante's starring in a show Arthur had written about Groucho. The roommate, naturally, goes on to become an agent at William Morris, the big talent agency.
For much of the last 30 years, Ferrante been crisscrossed the globe playing Groucho in the one-man show Ferrante wrote, "An Evening with Groucho."
The show plays at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center in York on March 5. It's part of a tour that will take Ferrante to a dozen cities, including a Marx Brothers festival in Bath, England in April.
In the show, Ferrante plays the Groucho of the 1920s and 1930s, the decades when he and his brothers were delighting audiences with their subversive humor in films like "Duck Soup," "A Day at the Races," and "A Night at the Opera."
Groucho, who died in 1977 at age 86, was always quick with one of his trademark one-liners and even faster with a suggestive raise of one of his greasepainted eyebrows.
"We all feel like we have to follow the rules," Ferrante said in explaining what makes Marx's humor so enduring. "Groucho never followed the rules."
Ferrante also performs and directs in regional theater.
Ferrante has been a regular over the years at Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre, where he directed a production of the Pulitzer Prize-finalist "Old Wicked Songs" and a slew of Neil Simon comedies including "Brighton Beach Memoirs," "Lost in Yonkers," and "Laughter on the 23rd Floor."
Ferrante willl return to the Walnut Street Theatre in 2017 to direct another revival of "Laughter on the 23rd Floor."
If you go:
What: Frank Ferrante in "An Evening with Groucho"
Where: Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York
When: 7:30 p.m. March 5
Tickets: At the box office, by phone at 717-846-1111, or online at www.mystrandcapitol.org
Prices: $26, $31 and $41