by Ed Corsi

Let me start off by saying my knowledge of the legendary Marx brothers before being assigned to this review was minimal. Knowing I would be attending this production, I did some research, watched movies and interviews online and read a great deal about these comic geniuses. Although, I’m glad I did, I can say you do not need to be familiar at all with the history of Groucho Marx to appreciate what may be one of the best shows staged in this area in quite a while.

Portraying the Marx Brothers in Collaborative Act Studio's GROUCHO: A LIFE IN REVUE running at The Ritz Theatre through August 22: (L to R) Ted Wioncek III (Groucho), Brian Walsh (Chico) and Shawn O'Brien (Harpo).

If you are not a fan of this style of comedy, it honestly doesn’t matter. If you are a fan of quality theatre and magnificent performances, you need not look any further than this production staged by The Collaborative Act Studio at The Ritz Theatre in Oaklyn, NJ.

It’s been some years since I stepped foot in The Ritz and I had forgotten what a great venue this facility is. They have been providing quality entertainment for years and the recent merger with TCAS will only make them stronger. Bruce A. Curless, Producing Artistic Director of The Ritz Theatre will be proud of this partnership after viewing what I watched this evening.

The audience saw an ensemble of 5 very talented actors and actresses that obviously did a great deal of research before taking on the challenge of performing this story written by Arthur Marx and Robert Fisher.

Brian Walsh (Leonard Marx/Chico) was hysterical. His comic timing and energy worked extremely well, especially during scenes with Groucho. At times, I thought they were better than the real duo.

Shawn O’Brien (as Adolf Marx/Harpo and others) was phenomenal as the goofy brother who provided most of his humor through excellent body language and facial expressions.

Samantha Morrone and Christine Peltz displayed lovely singing voices, professional acting chops and a confident stage presence that really added quite a bit to this production.

The Collaborative Act Studio founder, Ted Wioncek, III (who is now the Associate Producing Artistic Director at The Ritz Theatre) directed, produced and starred as the title character in GROUCHO: A LIFE IN REVUE. Although I think in this particular musical it’s important that I stress how good the entire ensemble was, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out Mr. Wioncek’s performance. Every single nuance, physical movement and vocal inflection was spot on as Groucho. His connection to the legendary comedian is astounding. As I watched his performance hold steady while seeing Groucho age, I found myself enjoying it more and more as the night went on. Groucho in his 80’s was very impressive…let’s not forget Wioncek is in his mid twenties! The actor’s artful imitation is complete with a voice that, like that of his subject, seems to crack and change pitch in a single sentence. Eyebrows are a comic instrument, punctuating punch lines and, without overdoing it, Wioncek has mastered the walk. There are times you go to the theatre and you just know that a performer was “meant” to be on a stage sharing his or her talents. Wioncek achieves that when you follow him on this funny, emotional and touching journey. He turns in a truly special performance and there is no doubt he has a very bright future.

The choreography by Erin Gartland, vocal direction by Michael Makofsky and musical direction by William Powell were executed wonderfully in every musical number. Supporting this ensemble of talented performers and directors was a crew that didn’t let them down. From CJ Sikorski’s set design to Eva Maria’s costumes and props, everything was visually and esthetically pleasing. Chris Miller’s light design worked remarkably. Every mood in each scene was set beautifully with just the right amount of intensity.

I encourage everyone, young and old, to get to The Ritz Theatre Saturday, August 21 or Sunday, August 22, as this show is only playing for one weekend. You will be glad that you spent an evening reminiscing or learning about Groucho, his brothers and his life. Kudos to The Collaborative Act Studio and The Ritz Theatre on a job extremely well done!

Written by Arthur Marx and Robert Fisher
Directed by Ted Wioncek III
Musical Direction by William Powell
Vocal Direction by Michael Makofsky
Choreography by Erin Gartland
August 20 – 22, 2010
Collaborative Act Studio at
The Ritz Theatre
915 White Horse Pike
Oaklyn, NJ

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