Groucho: A Life in Review, the Musical

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.

Groucho: A Life in Review, the Musical, is now on stage at the historic Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia until March 10, 2024.

Playwrights Arthur Marx (died 2011) and Robert Fisher (died 2008) wrote Groucho: A Life in Review, the Musical, a biography not only about Groucho Marx (1890-1977), father of Arthur Marx, but of the lives of the entire Marx family. The Marx Brothers were 20th Century comic legends first on the stage in the 1920s, then later in a string of landmark Hollywood films up to World War II. There were five Marx Brothers born between 1887 and 1901. Their stage names were Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo, and Zeppo. 

Groucho then moved onto television in the 1950s where he enjoyed a long career hosting popular game shows. Late in life, his television appearances on The Dick Cavett Show and The Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson) became legendary. 

Frank Ferrante (born April 26, 1963), director and star of the show, has had a long career playing Groucho Marx on stage in several productions. He has also appeared often at the Walnut Street Theatre throughout the years in a variety of plays. 

Groucho: A Life in Review, the Musical, includes not only Frank Ferrante as Groucho, but Dave Johnson (listed as Citizen of Freedonia), Matt Roper (as Harpo and Chico), Dreya Weber (all the women co-stars, reporters, and other women). It is amazing how many costume changes and characters these actors assumed throughout. The musical is divided into “Groucho’s Memories, The Early Years,” before the intermission, then ends with “Groucho’s Memories, The Later Years.” Frank Ferrante is brilliant in the role, even resembling Groucho as he looked when young and old, and sounding like him when both young and in old age. On opening night, Ferrante’s Groucho quipped and ad-libbed many jokes that were loved by the audience, usually at the expense of those who sat close to the stage.  

At a time when many of those born after 1999 don’t know that Eisenhower was President, or in what centuries the Civil War, or the World Wars belong, it is a testament to the staying power of the Marx Brothers and their humor.  Groucho pithily observed at one point in the show that an old joke is still funny if you’ve never heard it before. It’s this sort of magic that surrounds this production of Groucho: A Life in Review, the Musical.

Next at the Walnut Street Theatre is Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, beginning March 26, 2024. The 2024-2025 Season has been announced with Jersey Boys, Elf The Musical, Driving Miss Daisy, Hay Fever, and Dreamgirls

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