By William Wolf

I'LL SAY SHE IS  Send This Review to a Friend

What was it like in 1924 to see the Marx Brothers cavorting on stage? To find out and have a hilarious time hasten to the off-Broadway Connelly Theater, where the lost musical “I’ll Say She Is” has been spiritedly adapted and expanded after considerable dedicated research by Noah Diamond, who also gives a fabulous, spot-on performance as Groucho, complete with the leaning walk, the body gestures and the acerbic wisecracking.

I was skeptical that those phenomenal brothers whom we now know best from the films they did could be properly emulated. But the doubts quickly vanished as I found myself laughing admiringly at the antics of Diamond as Groucho incarnate, Seth Shelden delightfully emulating the physical comedy of Harpo, who even at one point plays a harp solo, and Mat Roper a dead ringer for Chico as he dispenses smart-alecky lines and puns, does Chico’s noted piano riffs and often turns to the audience for approval. To complete the foursome there is Matt Walters as the good-looking brother Zeppo providing the romantic charm.

The production has all of the elements that characterized the kind of musical revue that one might have found when “I’ll Say She Is” was a hit on Broadway in 1924. There is a terrific chorus of 10 singers and dancers, amusingly costumed (designed by Julz Kroboth, with chorography by Shea Sullivan). They aren’t Ziegfeld gorgeous, but a fun assembly of individually appealing gals who know how to capture the required personality of the show. Three even play the trumpet, French horn and trombone in a segment of utter hilarity during which they were trying to keep from breaking up at the performance I attended.

Credits include original book and lyrics by Will B. Johnstone and music by Tom Johnstone, with additional music by Alexander Jonstone. Musical direction and arrangements are by Sabrina Chap, and overall direction is by Amanda Sisk, Diamond’s wife, who keeps the zaniness zipping along with only a few lulls.

There is a cockamamie plot of sorts involving a rich young society woman, Beauty, who is depressed because she is sorely in need of thrills. The show is built upon the brothers trying to provide some of the lacking thrills. I have great appreciation for the talent of Melody Jane, who plays Beauty. She not only conveys her boredom, mixed with leading lady charm, and sings well. But she exhibits terrific comic agility and timing in a particularly funny slapstick scene. Hats off to her!

Praise is also due Kathy Biehl who plays Beauty’s aunt, Ruby, who is a kind of Margaret Dumont type, emphasized by Groucho’s amusingly coming onto her with the requisite insults. Biehl projects remarkable dignity and also sings impressively. The show benefits from a funny and versatile supporting cast that includes Max Weatherup, Jr., C. L. Weatherstone, Corrado Alicata and featured dancer Dante Adela. The romp is saturated with vaudevillian-like sketches, including a madcap Napoleon-era sequence, a courtroom scene and an avalanche of puns expertly delivered.

Although this is a show mounted on a small stage in a small theater, it looms large as a major entertainment that brings a Marx Brothers replica in all their demented glory with amazing fidelity. The aura of the lost Broadway show, never made into a movie, is also captured with the chorus-girl and comedy-style atmosphere of the time. It would have been great to experience the original in the 1920s, but thanks to Noah Diamond and company, we can see this highly enjoyable sampling with laughs galore. At the Connelly Theater, 220 East Fourth Street (Between Avenue A and B). Phone: 212-982-2287. Reviewed June 26, 2016.


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