By George S. Kaufman & Morrie Ryskind
Music and Lyrics by Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby
Directed by Craig A. Miller
Music Direction by Justin Pyne
Choreography by Joseph Favalora
For tickets & schedule:
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa, CA
RUN: August 19 – September 18, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars
(August 27, 2016)
Animal Crackers is based on the Marx Brothers’ 1930 film, set at a prominent socialite’s elaborate house party. Eager to impress and dress down her rivals, Mrs. Rittenhouse brings in big game with Captain Spaulding, the African explorer, and an unveiling of Beaugard’s “After the Hunt” oil painting. The stage is set for a glittering masterpiece of entertaining, until a series of unfortunate incidents plunges the house into tragicomic chaos that only Marx Brothers shenanigans can instigate. It is not so much a musical as the singing is a natural extension of comedic rhythm woven throughout the story.
Jeff Coté captures Groucho’s poise and mannerisms flawlessly, although his execution of ad lib humor lacks the editing prowess and timing of the original actor. It is admirable to attempt infusing off the cuff humor, but many of the jokes fell flat and may have been better carefully scripted instead. His entrance is surprising and dramatic, capturing the spirit of the original while navigating our modern sensibilities of other cultures with more grace than carting the Captain out carried by Africans in native apparel. Famous scenes are reproduced with attention to detail, such as his conversation with Mrs. Rittenhouse (Jacinta Gorringe) regarding hunting. “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.” Incidentally, Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont recreated the scene on the Hollywood Palace show in her final on screen appearance, a tribute to its longevity. Jacinta Gorringe takes to her role as society matron with alacrity, towering in majestic indignation at the increasing antics ruffling her house party. Their chemistry together is crackling, keeping pace with the Captain’s witty barbs.
From April George’s clever lighting design to a lovely 1930s set design by Joe Klug, Animal Crackers evokes the era without being enslaved to precise accuracy. The orchestra is strong, and participates in well-done comedic moments involving Harpo. Unfortunately they often overshadow the singing, rending lyrics into indecipherable buzzing underneath the orchestration.
Juggling the multiple roles of innocent debutante with acerbic villainess, Abbey Lee alternates between a bubbly blonde doting on her handsome young beau to the vodka swigging crafty Mrs. Whitehead determined to take down anyone in her way. Partner in crime Grace Carpenter (Lydia Revelos) is a remarkable songstress despite a formidable pair of false buck teeth, belting out The Blues My Naughty Baby Gives to Me. Joseph Favalora’s remarkable choreography for the two of them had the audience roaring; a highlight of the production. Her alternate persona as nerdy Mary Stewart was equally engaging, paired with Matthew Herida’s hapless artist. David L. Yen ambles about with Emmanuel Ravelli’s signature ne’er-do-well charm, egging on the madness in a quiet unassuming way, with a memorable bit attempting to conduct the orchestra. The Professor (Erik Weiss) sweetly mimics Harpo’s absurd expressions, leading to hilarious misunderstandings.
Animal Crackers at 6th Street Playhouse is a madcap musical comedy and touching tribute to the Marx Brothers—an impressive opening to their new season. Join the zany cast of characters for an evening of acerbic one-liners, sentimental lovers, and genuine belly laughs.