Take a look at the reviews our season-opener Animal Crackers has received!
From David Templeton, KRCB and The Bohemian:
“Hooray for Captain Spalding.
And hooray for the weird, wonderful, creatively imitative assemblage of actors who are currently bringing the Marx Brothers ‘Animal Crackers’ to retro-ridiculous life at the 6th Street Playhouse. Originally a long-running play on Broadway, ‘Animal Crackers’ is best known for the 1930 movie version, considered by many to be the finest example of the pun-filled, language-assaulting, physically offbeat comedy that the Brothers Marx made a career of. The play, with songs by George S. Kaufman, also gave the Brothers Marx a tune they would become inextricably associated with: the aforementioned, Hooray for Captain Spaulding, a goofy prog-pop extravaganza containing one of Groucho’s indelible signature lines, ‘Hello, I must be going.’
The 6th Street production uses the Broadway script, so if you know the movie well, prepare for a bunch of bits and songs that were cut from the show when it was adapted for the screen.
As Captain Spalding, played famously by Groucho, Jeff Coté gives an uncanny impersonation, from the painted mustache and active eyebrows to Groucho’s joyously twisty-turny dance moves. As the larcenous musician Emanuel Rivelli, aka Chico Marx, David Yen is delightful, blending mischievous enthusiasm with a confidently trouble-making underpinning of potential danger.
Watching Yen and Coté toss famously outrageous one-liners back and forth is one of the show’s chief pleasures.
“That’s a-not a flash, that’s a fish!”
Well, that’s in the show.
Also, expect a slightly sinister Harpo Marx, who, in the inventive, elastic-faced hands of actor Erik Weiss, is less an imitation of Harpo than a free interpretation of the goofily creepy Professor character he played in ‘Animal Crackers.’
Don’t expect Weiss to play the harp, though. In a conspicuously desperate and clunky homage to Harpo’s musicianship, director Craig Miller — who otherwise brings a parade of inventive ideas and cleverly inspired bits to the show – basically throws the brakes on the show as we in the audience watch Weiss, as Harpo, hanging out watching a movie of the real Harpo playing a tune.
That probably should have been cut.
On the other hand, Craig introduces a brilliant second act bit in which John Rathjen – absolutely superb in two supporting roles – steps out in his underwear to sing ‘Keep Your Undershirt On’ while putting on the costume of the marvelously droll butler Hives, nicely dueting with a similarly negligeed Jacinta Gorringe, as the marriage-minded matron Mrs. Rittenhouse.
Also excellent, in duel supporting roles, is Abbey Lee, quick-swapping outfits and wigs as Mrs. Rittenhouse’s hot-to-trot daughter Arrabella and as the scheming neighbor Mrs. Whitehead. Lee, along with the aforementioned Rathjen, commands some of the show’s best musical moments, supported by a fine onstage orchestra under the direction of Justin Pyne, and some nice choreography by Joey Favalora.
Unfortunately, many of the other voices in the cast often fail to soar or blend, unless, of course, one of the faux Mark Brothers is involved. To Tell the Truth, it’s hard to know whether Coté and Yen are singing well or not, because they sound so much like Groucho and Chico, and – like the rest of this overlong but frequently hilarious, beautifully and affectionately nostalgic show – are so stitch-in-the-side funny, nothing else really matters.”
From Suzanne and Greg Angeo, SFBATCC:
“It’s about time. A Roaring-Twenties Broadway musical madhouse called “Animal Crackers”, featuring the Marx brothers in all their insane and subversive glory, has now – after 88 years – arrived at 6th Street playhouse to help kick off its 11th season.
Better known for their movies from the 1930s and 40s, the iconic comedy team composed of brothers Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo first brought their carefully developed and crafted personas to the Broadway stage in the 1920s, after many years performing in vaudeville. Their first hit came to the Great White Way in 1924 when “I’ll Say She Is” was released on an unsuspecting world. It was followed by “The Cocoanuts” in 1925, and finally “Animal Crackers” in 1928. It was around then that Hollywood called. The film version of “Animal Crackers” was released in 1930 and was immediately a huge hit. The genius of the Marx brothers was maintaining the essence and integrity of their characters while using these characters as a springboard from which to improvise. And improvise they did, to the hair-pulling consternation of their directors and screenwriters. Cinema and comedy were never the same.
For each of the 6th Street actors playing the four Marx brothers on stage, it’s a performance on three levels: the actors are playing the Marx brothers, who are in turn playing their personas and who are, in turn, playing their roles in the musical. It’s a powerful leap through multiple hoops, and the result is a fun and very entertaining show. The plot revolves around a ritzy house party for an intrepid explorer, a stolen painting, much singing and dancing, and general craziness.
Each cast member plays two or three roles except for Jacinta Gorringe as the clueless stalwart society hostess Mrs Rittenhouse, who has her hands (and house) full. Gorringe proves during the show that she’s a real belter of jazzy tunes, belying her staid exterior.
Jeff Cote as Groucho (playing Captain Spaulding) is excellent in the role and tickled many a funny bone with his ad-libs to the audience, but hit some rough spots during an opening night performance with fluffed lines and a couple of flat jokes. The wild-child innocence of Harpo as played by Erik Weiss (as The Professor) is a pleasure to watch, and Weiss keeps the energy high and the horn-honks coming. There’s an especially nice touch with Weiss and a brief black-and-white film clip of the real-life Harpo playing the harp, sweetly done. Matthew Heredia as Zeppo (as Jamison) was especially good in a scene with Groucho, the famous “Hungadunga” letter exchange, which is so funny you could fall out of your seat. David Yen as Chico (playing Ravelli) had some great moments as well, but seems a bit laconic and half a beat off at times.
Abbey Lee and lydia Revelos own the stage own the stage whenever they appear as the scheming sisters Mrs Whitehead and Grace Carpenter. Lee in particular delivers a blazing song-and-dance performance in her roles as naughty Mrs Whitehead and winsome flapper Arabella Rittenhouse.
Direction by Craig Miller is clever and fluid, filled with sight gags and eccentric physical comedy. He hinted to us that there’s a bit of improv in there, as well. Overall, it’s a really good show, but could have been even better if pacing were a bit tighter. This will likely improve during the show’s run. Truly excellent Jazz-Age costumes by Gail Reine really make the show come to life.
“Animal Crackers” at 6th Street is a nice tribute to the Marx brothers, and should please not only those familiar with their unique form of comic anarchy and mayhem, but those who’ve never even heard of them. The Art Deco set and costumes, and some truly brilliant performances by the cast, make this a show well worth seeing.”
From Alexa Chipman, Imagination Lane Reviews:
“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 role of innocent debutante with acerbic villainess, Abbey Lee alternates between a bubbly blonde doting on her handsome young beau and 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.”
Animal Crackers runs through September 18 in the G.K. Hardt Theatre.