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Nostalgic 'Animal Crackers' funny, yet feels dated

Nostalgic 'Animal Crackers' funny, yet feels dated

Williamstown Theatre Festival’s choice to do “Animal Crackers,” a musical based on the 1928 play and
Nostalgic 'Animal Crackers' funny, yet feels dated
Mara Davi plays Mrs. Whitehead and Joey Slotnick is Groucho Marx as Captain Spaulding in &acirc;&#128;&#156;Animal Crackers.&acirc;&#128;&#157;
Photographer: T. Charles Erickson

Say the name The Marx Brothers today, and you’ll get a variety of reactions. From an older crowd, you might get a laugh; from a middle-aged crowd, you’ll get nods of recognition; and from a younger crowd, you might not get anything at all.

Acts such as The Marx Brothers have passed into . . . well, the past. A vaudeville group with sarcastic humor that did slapstick wouldn’t do as well today. (Well, the sarcasm might still fly, but we’re not as taken by slapstick in this day and age.)

Williamstown Theatre Festival’s choice to do “Animal Crackers,” a musical based on the 1928 play and 1930 movie, both starring the Marx Brothers, is an interesting one. Will it draw an older crowd hungry for nostalgia? Will it draw a younger crowd interested in learning a little more about what was considered comedy in a bygone era?

‘Animal Crackers’

WHERE: Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, Mass.

WHEN: Through July 13

HOW MUCH: $70 to $35

MORE INFO: (413) 597-3400, www.wtfestival.org

Vehicle for comedy

For anyone not familiar with the movie/musical: Captain Spaulding (Groucho Marx), a famous explorer, is invited to the Long Island mansion of Mrs. Rittenhouse and her debutante daughter, Arabella. There are shenanigans involving a missing painting, a musician who shows up at the wrong time with his strange sidekick and won’t leave (Chico and Harpo Marx) and various romances afoot. There’s a lot of slapstick, a lot of vaudeville stand-up, a lot of running around and chasing people and general tomfoolery.

The show is, perhaps, not the most tightly plotted. It seems to have been more of a vehicle for the Marx Brothers’ comedy and a little lighter on anything else happening on stage — and, well, if you were going to see a Marx Brothers’ movie (or musical), you probably didn’t care much for the other people in the movie.

There’s also the problem of it being somewhat dated. Yes, it’s a musical from another era. You have to go into it with a certain amount of understanding that women weren’t really considered much more than sexual jokes or objects to be mauled. (There is quite a bit of that happening in this show. Understand that it’s fitting, given the time frame, but it’s still a little off-putting to watch in 2013.)

Kudos to Slotnick

Joey Slotnick’s Groucho-as-Captain-Spaulding was stellar. He has the mannerisms and the vocal tics down. His joke delivery was perfectly timed and there were occasions when it seemed he went off-book — but it was hard to tell if it was a scripted off-book, or a purposeful off-book, for laughs.

The costumes (designed by Jenny Mannis) and the set (designed by Robin Vest) were gorgeous and perfect for the time period and the setting. The choice to have the orchestra not only on-stage, but part of the show, was a good one.

As a piece of nostalgia, the show works. It’s well-done. But it does perhaps ask the question if things of this nature should perhaps remain nostalgia, and should stay there for a reason — they’ve become somewhat too dated to fully work in today’s society.

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