Entries in It's A Wonderful Life Live Radio Show (2)

Thursday
Nov212013

Groucho Charms Audiences at Next Act Theatre

“What shape is the world?” Groucho Marx asks of his brother Chico, who then responds: “It’s better with a brother like you.”  Milwaukee will better shape their holiday season with a trip to Next Act Theatre’s endearing production of Groucho: A Life in Revue that opened last weekend. The multi-faceted comedic ability of five Jewish boys brought up in a New York tenement relates a poignant tale of Marx brotherly love despite their family’s personality differences and life’s inevitable difficulties. 

Arthur Marx, Groucho’s son from his first marriage, and Robert Fisher wrote the books, lyrics and music in the 1986 production to critical acclaim. The script delivers the lives of the Marx Brothers, using their given nicknames, Chico, Gummo, Groucho, Harpo, and Zeppo, that spans decades and includes highlights from their careers. While Groucho sustained a successful career in his later years through the television medium on You Bet Your Life, the brothers made their names in more than ten classic movies during the 1930’s and 40’s, years when people needed to laugh.

In this production, only three brothers, Groucho (Norman Moses), Chico (David Cecsariini) and Harpo (Chris Klopatek) were portrayed, along with their various women friends who influence their lives. A stunning Alexandra Bonesho easily rotates these roles. One exquisite scene places Bonesho dressed as a harp, a delightfully choreographed number, where Harpo pulls her strings (tied from arm to ankle) with loving affection.

Moses radiates Groucho’s innate, insulting humor with casual affection. The actor knows Julius “Groucho” Marx intimately, having mastered the icon numerous times in Milwaukee theaters, his musical skills front and center when singing   “Lydia, The Tattooed Lady.” When paired alongside Cecsarini playing the likeable but often less responsible, women loving Chico, the two make brotherhood seem imminently possible despite very disparate temperaments.

Klopatek’s Harpo adds significantly to the upbeat ambiance on the small Next Act Stage, wandering into the audience to position his playful antics with certain members. One can only be obliged to smile, and wonder has there ever been another wordless comedian quite like Harpo? Only by remembering the routines of Marcel Marceau, a mime that worked under the framework of another skill set. Also feature into the evening’s mix Music Director Jack Forbes Wilson, who continually mines the magic on the keyboard, especially in a wild piano duet with Chico.

Pam Kriger directs this well composed cast, including great cameos by Chase Stoeger, with a delicate hand, plumbing the family connections and classic comedy routines from the Marx brother’s past. Demonstrating the perseverance the Marx brothers faced, while often facing discrimination because of their Jewish heritage. Perhaps as Groucho believed, “There is a fine line between sadness and comedy.”

Groucho: A Life in Revue might be the perfect end of year theater, sometimes laugh out loud funny in spite of the dated humor with sincere underpinnings to how family can save family. That a disagreement rarely matters over a lifetime and brother to brother, or sister to brother, sibling rivalry can be put aside, because one would truly miss each other when they finally separated. How similar to Groucho and his own brothers!  

Perhaps this delightful play can help someone see their brother through fresh eyes, with humor instead of criticism, even if only within their family. Whether in poverty or wealth, enjoying Groucho for one night can imply, “the shape of the world can indeed be better with a brother like you.” Perhaps, this might be an imperfect world, yet infinitely livable when shared with family. Too nostalgic for any audience? Never. Only appreciate Next Act’s impeccably charming production that places the irascible Groucho in his rightful theatrical perspective to earn a place in the audience’s heart.

Next Act Theatre presents Groucho: A Life in Revue at the company’s theater home located on 255 South Water Street through December 8. Also watch for their other holiday selection, a reprise of last year’s “It’s A Wonderful Life Live Radio Show” beginning December 12 through January 5. For further information or tickets, please call 414.278.0765 or click the link to the left (www.nextact.org).                by Peggy Sue Dunigan

 

Thursday
Nov292012

WARM, WONDERFUL LIVES HIGHLIGHT NEXT ACT THEATRE'S  RADIO SHOW

In a welcome twist on a holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life Live Radio Show brings a touch of old time Milwaukee to the stage this season. Next Act Theatre produces Mary MacDonald Kerr’s adaptation with warm life at WNAT Radio in 1957. An era when on the air radio shows were changing to playing music 24 hours, full time.

At the station this particular Christmas Eve, Judy stops in on leave from her current acting tour to wish her former co-workers Merry Christmas. They all prepare for the retelling of A Christmas Carol and at the last minute the station owner decides to run It’s A Wonderful Life for their grand finale.

With snow falling softly in the studio and stage background, a romantic touch for the audience, Judy substitutes for two “stuck in the storm” co-workers and agrees to play the part of Mary Hatch. The crew patiently waits for a tipsy James to change into that famous everyday hero George Bailey at a last minute entrance. And the guiding force Clarence arrives to show the couple the way accompanied by old time Foley sound mechanics through which Next Act delivers a mesmerizing version of the beloved holiday story.

Kerr’s play adaptation sings on stage, complementing the 50’s costumes (in which Kerr looks charming) and the tension she creates between Judy and the disillusioned James, a perennial 'Scrooge" that Norman Moses captures with boyish antics. As former lovers, James and Judy still secretly cherish each other, which becomes apparent in a scene between Mary and George that reignite their latent passion.

Jack Forbes Wilson’s piano gives its own life to the story's music while he recreates Clarence Odbody, the guardian angel waiting for his wings after 200 years. Director David Cecsarini coordinates the inspirational tale with all these radio antics while he acts miscellaneous parts, including Mr. Gower, and adds realistic sound effects to present a magical evening.

These well known Milwaukee actors do multiple duty playing several characters, while the production adds city specific commercials (note Usinger Sausage)  to tug at the audience’s heartstrings. As if these story’s characters rounded out by versatile actors Debra Babich and Bo Johnson are completely adept at doing this entirely by themselves.

Applaud Kerr, perhaps a new woman playwright in the making, for the imagination to bring these warm, wonderful “Lives” to Next Act. The world could appreciate remembering more George Bailey’s in the public eye. Then be sure to appreciate both Kerr and the marvelous Milwaukee cast in this “Live Radio Show” for the short holiday season, a winning combination to melt the city’s winter’s cold.

Next Act Theatre presents Mary MacDonald Kerr’s adaptation of It’s A Wonderful Life Live Radio Show” at the 225 South Water Street through December 9. For further information or tickets, please call:414.278.0765 or click the link to the left.      by Peggy Sue Dunigan