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Cedar City • As Act II opens in Utah Shakespeare Festival's fast and funny production of "The Cocoanuts," Mrs. Potter is singing "Five O'Clock Tea" stage left. Meanwhile, the Marx Brothers are up to their usual zany shenanigans stage right. The focus shifts back and forth, and finally Harpo dances with Mrs. Potter, visually uniting the two strands of the show.
The original version of "The Cocoanuts" was written by George S. Kaufman with music by Irving Berlin two American theater giants as a Broadway show for the Marx Brothers in 1925. Mark Bedard updated the show, which debuted and was directed by David Ivers at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival two years ago. This is only the third production of the new show.
As Melissa Rain Anderson points out in her director's notes, "The Cocoanuts" is a unique hybrid: "The Marx Brothers vaudeville meets farce meets romantic musical theatre meets madcap musical comedy." Anderson adeptly blends these disparate styles by keeping the comedy anchored midway between anarchy and programmed, focusing it on the storyline, such as it is, and maintaining a brisk pace so the audience never gets ahead of the actors. She's aided by a cast whose timing runs like clockwork and who are always on the same page.
The setting is a seedy Florida hotel run by Groucho (John Plumpis), who needs to sell lots at nearby Cocoanut Manor to stay afloat. Zeppo plays his hotel clerk, Bobby Jamison (John Wascavage), who wants to marry heiress Polly Potter (Anna Landy) but needs money to convince her mother, Mrs. Potter (Kathleen Brady), who wants Polly to marry into the prominent Yates family. Harvey Yates (Michael Harding) is actually penniless and a con artist, and he and his partner, Penelope (Melinda Parrett), plan to steal Mrs. Potter's diamond necklace and blame Bobby. Then Chico (Jim Poulos) and Harpo (Tasso Feldman) arrive at the hotel, and any semblance of normalcy rapidly disintegrates.
There are some lively song-and-dance numbers, but "Always," sung by Bobby and Polly in the second act, is the only familiar tune. A set change to adjoining hotel bedrooms allows Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Penelope to do a hilarious routine with slamming doors that depends on split-second timing. Groucho throws in some local jokes "I'll say a few nice words about Cocoanut Manor. It's not Panguitch" and he and Chico have their "why a duck?" exchange. Brady's Mrs. Potter looks and acts like Margaret Dumont in the Marx Brothers films, the perfect straight woman for the brothers' tomfoolery. Chris Mixon has a delightful cameo as Detective Hennessey, who can't seem to keep his shirt on.
Plumpis, Poulos and especially Feldman, whose Harpo wants to eat and drink everything in sight, are completely in sync as the Marx Brothers. Wascavage and Landy make an attractive and tuneful romantic duo she has an especially lovely voice and Parrett dances up a storm as Penelope. Harding is appropriately sleazy as Yates.
Jo Winiarski's bright blue and green Pop Art set features pink flamingos, and Kirk Bookman's brassy lighting includes flashing lights and spotlights for the singers. Bill Black's sophisticated costumes are a rainbow of styles and colors. Gregg Coffin's musical direction is crystal clear, and Natasha Harris contributes lots of catchy dance steps.
"The Cocoanuts" thrives on nonstop singing and silliness, but, as a friend reminded me, the clever wordplay in the Marx Brothers' humor elevates them above slapstick comedians like the Three Stooges. Well-done farce requires discipline and perfect timing, and this production translates them into a very entertaining package.
On your Marx
Inspired silliness and lively singing and dancing combine to shape the Utah Shakespeare Festival's highly entertaining production of "The Cocoanuts."
When • Reviewed July 7; plays in rotating repertory with another production Mondays through Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Sept. 3; beginning Sept. 13, Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 and Fridays and Saturdays at 2 and 8 through Oct. 15
Where • Randall Jones Theatre at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, 299 W. Center St., Cedar City
Tickets • $32 to $73, with discounts for groups, students and seniors; (800) PLAYTIX (752-9849) or http://www.bard.org
Running time • Two and a half hours (including an intermission)