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Revival of Marx Brothers' I'll Say She Is a rousing success

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As mentioned in a previous article, The Marx Brothers’ 1924 Broadway hit I’ll Say She Is was their only Broadway stage show that was not made into a film. It was also their only Broadway stage show that has never been revived. Recently a talented group of performers rectified the latter situation, bringing I’ll Say She Is back to the Sheen Center in New York City.

It is impossible for any actors, no matter how talented, to fully capture the iconic comic characters created by Groucho, Harpo, Chico and sometimes Zeppo Marx, but what is important in any Marx Brothers revival is to capture the spirit of the team, and the folks behind I’ll Say She Is, headed by Noah Diamond as Groucho, did that splendidly. Working with almost no scenery, a minimum of props (a few chairs, a card table) and music supplied by an offstage pianist, the cast still managed to give the audience a good idea of what the original production might have been like. The story itself, though tightened up by Diamond, is simply a flimsy but highly workable excuse for multiple comedy scenes and musical numbers, but as producer Herman Mankiewicz once said, “If Groucho and Chico stand against a wall for an hour and forty minutes and crack funny jokes, that’s enough of a plot for me.”

The star of any Marx Brothers show is always going to be Groucho, and Diamond must rank with the best of any Groucho interpreters. He doesn’t slavishly imitate the great comedian, but instead captures the manic spirit of the man, and of course, gets the best lines as the real Groucho always did. One of the best moments of the show is when he cracks a rather lame joke and then marches up to the front of the stage, looks directly at the audience and says “You’re not getting your money back.”

Equally in the spirit of the Brothers is Seth Shelden as Harpo, who holds nothing back in his effort to cause havoc and chaos throughout the show. While he doesn’t get a harp solo, he does ably play the saxophone early in the show, and expertly recreates several of Harpo’s classic bits, including the famous scene reused in Animal Crackers where knives and other cutlery he has stolen from the premises begin to fall out of his sleeve as a detective shakes his hand.

Props also go to Robert Pinnock as Chico (alas, no piano solo) and Aristotle Stamat as Zeppo. As sometimes happened in the films, both characters are somewhat overshadowed by the antics of Grouch and Harpo, but both Pinnock and Stamat get their moments to shine and do an excellent job of completing the quartet. The rest of the cast is equally good, but special praise must go to Kathy Biehl who plays a Margaret Dumont-type character who must withstand insults from Groucho (“Ever since I met you, there’s something I’ve been ashamed of, and I think it’s you.”) and to C. L. Weatherstone, who plays several parts including a comic butler whom manages to retain his dignity while Harpo abuses him in various ways.

Then there is Melody Jane as Beauty, a bored rich girl who is looking for new thrills which Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and company then attempt to provide for her. Her character is aptly named, and the actress brings the kind of sassy, wink-in-her-eye attitude to her part that Lillian Roth and Thelma Todd brought to their performances in the Marx Brothers films. Melody Jane would have been a fan favorite in any Marx Brothers movie.

When the “brothers” are not on stage, the show still provides ample entertainment with songs sung by the cast members and/or the talented chorus line. The musical interludes are not just a break in the action but diverting and charming in and of themselves, unlike many of the similar scenes in several Marx Brothers movies such as The Cocoanuts and A Day at the Races.

Noah Diamond worked several years piecing together I’ll Say She Is from various sources and finally fulfilled his dream by getting it back on stage, with the help of director Trav S.D. Now that it has been reconstructed, we can only hope that I'll Say She Is gets the same kind of revivals across the country that The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers have often had.

I’ll Say She Is. Original Book and Lyrics by Will B. Johnstone. Adapted and expanded by Noah Diamond. Music by Tom Johnstone. Additional music by Alexander Johnstone. Produced by Noah Diamond and Trav S. D. Directed by Trav S.D.

Herman Mankiewicz quote from Joe Adamson's Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo. Simon and Schuster, 1973.

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