Monday, May 26, 2014

The Cocoanuts—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

“…loving you, always.”

This classic comedy/musical by the Marx Bros. is now onstage in all its madcap glory at the Bowmer Theatre at OSF.  It is written by Irving Berlin and George S. Kaufman and adapted for the stage by Mark Bedard (the Groucho character in the show).  Direction is by David Ivers, choreography by Jaclyn Miller and musical direction by Gregg Coffin.  It is playing through November 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 541-482-4331.

“Always” is probably the most recognizable song in this Berlin musical.  And the blend of Berlin’s music, Kaufman’s script and, most of all, the Marx Bros. antics, makes this a classic.  It was an early show of “the boys” onstage during the twenties and finally made into a film in the thirties.  Fun as they were, this adaptation (Bedard) surpasses even them, as it is brilliant!

The story?  As Groucho explains, who needs a story with everything else going on onstage.  He’s right, of course.  One can quite satisfyingly simply hang your hat onto the antics and adlibs and the terrific songs/music from a by-gone era and be content as a…duck.  Why a duck, you may ask?  Well, that’s another story, as Groucho might say.  But, to stick with convention, for all it’s worth, here are the plots….or lots, in this case, as they story hinges partly around some Florida swamp land, Cocoanuts Manor, and the con artist (Hammer) trying to sell it.

It is also about a failing hotel, The Cocoanuts Beach Hotel, and the quest by the owner/manager, Mr. Hammer, aka, Groucho (Mark Bedard), trying to find investors for it and the associated aforementioned swampland.  Arriving in the nick of time is a rich widow, Mrs. Potter (K. T. Vogt) and her daughter, Polly (Jennie Greenberry), who is actually secretly in love with Jamison, a hotel clerk, aka Zeppo (Eduardo Placer).

Mrs. P. is trying to marrying off her daughter to another rich gentleman (or so she thinks) Harvey Yates (Robert Vincent Frank) of the Boston Yates.  But he has his eyes also on a very expensive pearl necklace Potter has.  And so does his cohort, Penenlope (Kate Mulligan).  Unbeknownst to them, Chico (John Tufts), and Harpo (Brent Hinkley) are petty thieves, also willing to steal anything not nailed down, or eat them, like the phone, inkwell, etc.

But, as the saying goes, the plot…thins.  There is a Detective Hennessey (David Kelly) that seems to be wise to the thieving shenanigans but is so inept himself that they get a leg up on him.  But it seems an innocent guy is blamed for the burglary of the necklace and it is up to our intrepid trio to trounce on the tricky thieves.  Touché, right?!  The outcome is no big surprise, but I won’t tell you it, anyway.

Everything works in this production!  Only one sour note I would make in the whole Marx Bros. experience but I won’t mention that until the end of this review.  The music and band (Darcy Danielson) is super.  The dances (Miller) are terrific.  And the duck is…ducky, as is Superman…er, boy (later on those.)  This is a play for all ages (and all sizes).  If you like Berlin (the composer, not the town), you’ll love this show.  And the set (OSF veteran, Richard L. Hay) is superb, as are the costumes (Meg Neville).

The director, Ivers, has said he has been a fan of the Marx Bros. all his life and it shows.  He has not only lovingly put together a tribute to their zaniness but has allowed it to blossom and take on a life of its own (a complement to Bedard’s contribution, too).  This show is one of the best productions I have ever seen!  The audience literally roared at the end, with a standing ovation.  And if you don’t see it, you’re a ducky’s uncle…er, monkey’s (see how one can be affected by the silliness of the show, long after it’s over).

The rendition of the songs and dances are very exciting and nostalgic, too.  My special favorites are “Lucky Boy” by “the boys;” “Always” by Placer and Greenberry; the “Shirt” song by Kelly; and “Why do you want to know Why?” by Tufts.  And the ad libs and audience participation never stopped.  There is a young lady out there named, Comet, I think, first name, Haley, who may be a star now because of her involvement with the play.  And a wee lad that will grow up thinking he can fly…and, hopefully, save the world, as well (it could use a little saving right now…for that matter, so could my account at the bank).

And the cast, you may ask (even if you didn’t ask, I’d still tell you)?  Outstanding, from the superb Bedard to the bellhops (Katie Bradley, Miles Fletcher, and Erin O’Connor)!  Bedard, as probably hinted at, is a genius.  No one else, in my opinion, can do justice to this part.
His timing is perfect and, the mannerisms of Groucho, he has down to a tee.  And flexible, too (you try that strut of his for any length of time and see how you feel).  He is what they call on Broadway, a triple threat, he can sing, dance, act and do comedy (okay, that’s four, but you get the idea).  I’m anxiously awaiting his next venture as Groucho, as wild horses couldn’t keep me away (okay, maybe they could, but a sickly pony couldn’t).

Greenberry has a lovely voice, (operatic, I would say), as does Placer, and both do justice to their numbers. Vogt is a perfect double for Margaret Dumont, who played the dowager role in many of their films, and is a perfect foil for the gang.  Mulligan and Frank do nice turns as the would-be thieves.  Kelly is a wonderful stooge for the boys and holds his own against them as a comic.  Tufts, as Chico, is terrific as Groucho’s chief sparring partner.  And Hinkley, as Harpo, is a wonderful mime and captures the mischievousness marvelously of the beloved stage/screen clown.

And the answer to the age old question, “why a duck?”  It’s simple, you may get hit in the head if you don’t.  And the one sour note, I mentioned?  CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT ANOTHER MARX BROS. PROUCTION IS NOT ON THE SCHEDULE FOR NEXT YEAR’S SEASON?!  I protest (or, at least, will whine loudly)!  There may not have been many of their plays, but some of their films could be adapted for the stage.  As well as doing a musical called Minnie’s Boys that appeared on Broadway some years ago.  Anyway, I sincerely hope that we will see more of this talented troupe at some point in the future.

I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

For another perspective, please read Greg’s review: 

The Ashland Experience (Part IV)

This is the last in a series of places to visit while in Ashland.  Louie’s Bar & Restaurant, on the plaza, has a nice atmosphere and allows young people into it.  Oberon’s Three-Penny Tavern, on the plaza, has a medieval flavor, with food and drink to match  The Lithia Theater on Main St. shows films and has an upstairs, smaller theater that shows Indie and Foreign-language films.  Greenleaf Restaurant , on the Plaza, features “healthy” foods for those discriminating tastes.  Our server, Meadow, was very helpful and friendly.  And historic Jacksonville is only a few miles away and definitely has some worthwhile antique shops, restaurants, the Britt Music Festival, and a cemetery that goes back a couple hundred years.  Worth the extra time for a day visit.

The Oregon Cabaret Theatre, 1st and Hargadine (a block from OSF), offers musical revues and meals.  For more information, go to their site at or call 541-488-2902.  Lithia Park (just below OSF) offers picnicking and parking sites, a duck pond, a creek, a playground and a 1.5 jogging trail.  A beautiful park.  And, of course, OSF has two other theatres beside the Bowmer, the Thomas and the original, outdoor theatre, the Elizabethan Theatre (Summer & Fall shows only).  And, last but not least, is the Tutor Guild Gift Shop which is chocked full of souvenirs and memorabilia from the Festival.  Proceeds from purchases also go to help OSF.

And for the other reviews of the shows I’ve seen:

Tempest -

A Wrinkle In Time -

The Sign In Sidney Brusteins -

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