The Marx Brothers’ first two films, The Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930), were adapted from their second and third Broadway stage plays. The team actually made their Broadway debut in 1924’s I’ll Say She Is, a musical comedy that caught the attention of the major New York critics and made the team Broadway stars. Yet when the brothers were signed to a movie contract by Paramount in 1929, filming I’ll Say She Is was not on the agenda. In the years since, the play has never been revived.
Thanks to performer, writer and Marx Brothers enthusiast Noah Diamond, director Trav S.D. and a host of other dedicated Marx Brothers fans, a reconstructed I’ll Say She Is will be returning to the stage for the first time in 90 years at the Sheen Center in New York City. Marx Brothers fans, at least those who can make it to New York, can finally see what the team’s first Broadway show was really like. “I’ll Say She Is was the first Marx Brothers movie,” Diamond says, “except it was never a movie.”
Piecing together I’ll Say She Is was no easy task. Diamond’s main source was a 30-page typescript by the revue’s main author Will B. Johnstone. This typescript was essentially an outline of the story, plus dialog. From there, Diamond searched through newspaper reviews and columns, combing for any descriptions of gags, lines and scenes that could be used to reconstruct the play. For scenes where little or no material existed, Diamond created his own material. “The new things I’ve added are still based on my research, true in spirit to the 1924 production, and hopefully seamless with the original material,” Diamond explains.
The plot of I’ll Say She Is is simple and custom-built for comedy routines and musical scenes. A bored heiress promises to marry the man who gives her the biggest thrill, a premise which in the original stage production was used as an excuse for the Four Marx Brothers – Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo – to trot out several of their tried and true vaudeville bits, along with new material like the legendary “Napoleon” scene, written for the show by Johnstone and Groucho. Diamond says the new production is more of a book show than the original, but explains “It’s still a revue, complete with comedy sketches, chorus line, dance specialties, a mini ballet, studies in drapery, visual spectacle – and the Marx Brothers running through it!”
I’ll Say She Is is part of The New York International Fringe Festival which runs from August 8th through August 24th. At this time, only five performances of the show are planned. Check the above Fringe Festival link for times, dates and ticket information.