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MY INTERVIEW WITH FRANK FERRANTE
BY IRIDE APARICIO

Photos By: Michael Doucett Groucho 1

SAN JOSE, CA – “Why GROUCHO  MARX?” Cultural World Bilingual asks Award-winning actor/director/playwright and Producer  FRANK FERRANTE, who will come to S.J. to impersonate  the legendary star, in AN EVENING WITH GROUCHO, a  two act comedy show that will be presented on April 6 and 7 at the 3 BELOW theaters & Lounge.   

“Why did I pick this character, to portray?” he asks, before answering: “I fell in love with GROUCHO  MARX, and his brothers, when I was nine years old, and I saw a film of him on television called “A Day at the Races.” I never had seen anything like it, I had never laughed so hard. He was so outrageous, so free and wild, so insane, that a switch was set on, on me. I wanted to be on that world, I wanted to learn about comedy and comedians.GROUCHO was my introduction to comedy. He was also my introduction to theatre, and performance. I owe GROUCHO  a great deal, because of his inspiration and impact."

"I was very shy,  I was so inhibited, as a kid, that GROUCHO behavior,  as I saw it on television, made me feel bold. I wanted to be like him. And I think that a lot of people that I met for decades, feel the same way about GROUCHO, because he is so impudent, so true-telling that it is exhilarating.” He pauses. “ So, GROUCHO led me to a life-long love of  good theatre, and a thirty five year career. Since my twenties, I’ve been working in the theatre, so GROUCHO for me is pure joy.”

But  in order for Mr. FERRANTE  to be able to impersonate his character on the stage, he  needed to do a lot of research to learn who was GROUCHO MARX. He continues:

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F.F: “I grew up in a small town in Southern California called Sierra Madre, and I spent a lot of time in my local library researching films and television, and many people in the world, because of GROUCHO. Because of him, now I am an actor, and a Director, and a Producer in theatre, and also someone who has this one-person show, which I’ve been doing for over thirty years

CWB: How do you as an impersonator of  GROUCHO  define the MARX  type of comedy?

F.F.: “MARX is part of the “Great Tradition in Comedy that goes back to the beginning of time. It is also part of the vaudeville tradition, from the early l920’s and l930’s. But to describe GROUCHO’s humor, I will say that as most great comedians, he was “a truth teller,” he held up a mirror into life. We see our  own behavior, often, through great comedians like GROUCHO MARX. He is also a very physical comedian, athletic, and also verbal, so there is a great deal of wit, of word play, puns. And GROUCHO usually plays a character who is an outsider in society. So he is “The Little guy” who makes fun of politicians, and lawyers, and doctors and professors and people that have power, so we relate to GROUCHO. He is the Alter-Ego for many fans, like myself. But there is also certain danger in his type of comedy, because is so unpredictable and so honest.”

C.W.B.: What are the difficulties in handling a solo show?

F.F.: “For me, it is maintaining my own stamina. It is a very demanding show because it is me, for  the ninety minutes two act comedy with music. For the music, II have a piano player, an accompanist by the name of  GERALD  STERNBACH, and he is a great pianist who had played for many Broadway stars."

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But to answer your question, the challenge  for me  is that I need to continue to maintain my strength, physically and remain vocally  fit on the stage."

“I have done the show in more than five hundred cities by now. I have done more than three thousand performances.  I have played it in New York, and London, England, Australia. The show has been in PBS television nationally fifteen years ago,  So, I had done it for so many years that to me it is now like putting on a glove when I perform the role.”

C.W.B: Have you ever felt like GROUCHO when you are not on the stage? 

F.F.: “ No. On stage, I am fully committed to it, so I try to channel his spirit and style, and when I am in the grove, I feel I am a version of GROUCHO MARX . I even  try to feel how he had felt, doing what he did, But I don't feel like GROUCHO in my personal life.  My work and craft are very separated.”

C.W.B. Can you tell our readers something about your show?

F. F.: “This show will make YOU laugh. Every show is different, and the audience is different, so I don’t know what is going to happen, from show to  show, which makes each show exciting for me and  puts electricity to it, It is also an Award-Winning show which has played internationally.

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“But  AN EVENING WITH GROUCHO has to focus on GROUCHO’s type of  physical humor which surprises audiences with his wit, so, as I said before, the show is funny. The MARX BROTHERS come from the stage tradition, they come from the theatre, and so do I, so I know how long it takes to evolve a character , and I learned that it does not matter if the audience knows who GROUCHO MARX was,  my show needs to entertain them. And for those who don’t know who GROUCHO was, this show may be an introduction to GROUCHO for them. And I am not happy until the audience is laughing hard. “

The two-act comedy consists of the best of GROUCHO’s one-liners, anecdotes, and songs, with Mr FERRANTE in the role of GROUCHO, accompanied by his pianist  ad-libbing  his way throughout the performance. It is  a show for all ages.

C.W.B.  Do you think the Humor of GROUCH) was different from today’s humor?

F.F: “What is different about his humor is what is different about his era. GROUCHO MARX spent many years of his life travelling all over the United States, (where  the States are like different planets) and  around the world, developing his character and his comedy. He was always  playing to different cultures, different mentalities, observing what works.  The  MARX BROTHERS spent  years developing their remarkable type of comedy and these remarkable characters, which is the reason why people are still talking about them today.”

FRANK  FERRANTE was cast in the role of GROUCHO for the first time by ARTHUR MARX, the son of Groucho, in the stage play, “Groucho: A Life in Revue” (written by Arthur and ROBERT FISHER) when he was a student in New York. The show was presented off-Broadway with young  FRANK FERRANTE playing the leading role. The play was nominated to two New York Outer Critic Awards one for best play and one for best actor. In l987 Mr FERRANTE won the New York Theatre World Award for “Outstanding New Talent” and three Laurence Olivier Award  Nomination

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For those of you who may be unfamiliar with GROUCHO MARX we include some brief information:
GROUCHO MARX was a comedian, a film and TV actor, a singer and writer. He was also one of the MARX BROTHERS (HARPO, CHICO, ZEPPO, and GUMMO) team of comedy. GROUCHO was born on October 2, l890 in New York City from immigrant parents from Germany and from France. He began his career as a singer, but his efforts proved to be disastrous, so, in l914,  he changed his career to comedy, making people laugh at themselves with quick-witted quips that won over the crowds. After his fame grew, he began making films with his brothers. In l949, After splitting from his brothers he performed solo on radio and television. He died on august l9, 1977.

To order tickets to AN EVENING WITH GROUCHO on April 6 and 7, you can go to https://3belowtheaters.com, or buy tickets at the 3Below Theaters (Formerly Camera 3) 288 South Second St. Downtown San Jose.