The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 30, 2007


CCHS revives the Marx Brothers with Animal Crackers

Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Gummo: did you know there were five of them? The
Sean Dwyer and Kailey Prior show how much fun it is to dance "The Long Island Low-Down."
legendary Marx Brothers comedy team began their careers in show business in the early years of the 20th century, appearing as musicians and in vaudeville theaters, rose to stardom on Broadway and then to superstardom in a series of films now considered classic. Animal Crackers, starring Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo, (Gummo had already left the act to serve in World War I and did not return to the stage) was the brothers' third Broadway show. It opened on October 23, 1928, and was made into a film released in 1930. I wonder how many of us have actually seen it.

CCHS Drama Director George Kendall wondered that too. He told me that only two of the students involved with Animal Crackers, opening tonight in the CCHS auditorium at 7:30 p.m., had even heard of the Marx Brothers — not so surprising when you think about it. Like Abbott and Costello, whose famous "Who's on first?" routine has pretty much outlived the original artists, the Marx Brothers themselves have faded from our consciousness even as their distinctive mannerisms and physical comedy, one-liners and routines have become part of our culture. CCHS students, however, now know the origins of all that comedic brilliance. In an over-the-top one-liner almost worthy of the brothers themselves, Kendall gleefully announced, "Now I know I've done my duty as an educator!"

Animal Crackers plays here and in Scotland

Kendall chose Animal Crackers because "the Marx Brothers' humor is universal." It is a shrewd choice, certainly, not only for performance here, but also in the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe Festival. To accommodate as many students as possible as well as travel plans, some roles have been double-cast, so audiences here will have a chance to see both casts perform: the U.S. cast will perform on Friday and Saturday, and the Edinburgh-bound cast on Sunday.

The show's wisecracking dialogue and exaggerated physical comedy are reminiscent not only of American vaudeville theater, but also of British music hall comedy and pantomime ("panto"), and should play very well in the U.K. As I watched a rehearsal on Tuesday afternoon, I heard students in the audience seats around me laughing heartily and proving that Animal Crackers is delighting a new generation here in the U.S. as well.

Carlisle students in leadership positions

Animal Crackers has a ridiculously complicated and farcical plot involving the theft of several pieces of art, some genuine and some fake, as well as several romances. As in most Marx

Amanda Caddell is the "Dream Dancer" in a specialty number in Act II of Animal Crackers.

Brothers work, the plot is really a vehicle for their particular brand of comedic set pieces. Action is breathless and dialogue is rapid-fire. The music is lively and very much of the period of the late 1920s. The character Wally Winston (played by Mark Nimar), for example, is a journalist who speaks mainly in alliterative headlines. Nimar's impressive Broadway belt gives life and energy to songs like "The Long Island Low-Down." That particular number is also an ensemble dance, and its choreography, by Carlisle's Lisa Yanofsky, is bouncy, peppy and tight.

Owen Callahan, a senior from Carlisle, is the pit orchestra conductor and a pit player for Animal Crackers. The seven-person orchestra, most of whom are doubling intstruments, can turn out anything from broad, trombone-heavy comedic schtick music to lively Charlestons and delightfully cheesy ballads with élan. They are nested right in the center of the massive set, between two curved staircases and in full view of the audience, just as if they were hired to play for a society ball.

Carlislean Eric Johnson is responsible for heading the crew that has executed this impressive set on the CCHS stage. Lighting is complicated, varying speedily from large full-stage washes to pin spots and specials in an array of compositions and colors.

Carlisleans onstage

Carlisle students have taken on leadership positions in the technical and production tasks, and others appear onstage as singers, actors and dancers. Danielle Judson, formerly of Carlisle, plays the role of Mary Stewart. Sean Dwyer appears as the butler, Hives. Amanda Caddell solos as the "Dream Dancer," while her sister Val joins fellow Carlislean Phil Dumka as onstage domestic staff. Phil's sister Rachel is in the ensemble along with Kaytie Innamorati.

The show's comedy is infectious: giggles and belly laughs circle around the auditorium, and it is a delight to see an "old chestnut," long recognized as one of the roots of American comedy, dusted off with such affection and merriment by the talented cast and crews. Tickets are $15/adults, $10/senior citizens and are available at the door. Shows are tonight and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Be sure to see Animal Crackers this weekend: everybody needs a good laugh.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito