By Dale King
A wise, frequently used phrase in the English lexicon observes: “Behind every great man is a great woman.” The woman in question is usually a wife or a mother, underscoring the assumption that no man gets to be “great” without a feminine guiding hand. Some woman, somewhere, had to provide that regulatory element for the man to achieve success.
Minnie’s Boys, the 1970 musical of how the sons of Minnie Marx endured the pain of failure and embarrassment of attempting to sing in front of theater patrons armed with weaponized vegetables, morphed into Groucho, Harpo, Zeppo, Chico and Gummo – one of the funniest, most enduring and well-respected comedy teams in entertainment history – is playing to audiences at the Broward Stage Door Theatre in Margate who literally laugh out loud at the antics.
Peter Loewy, who directed Minnie’s Boys at his own playhouse in Metuchen, N.J., repeats the task for Broward Stage, and throws in some choreography to boot. When last at the Margate venue, Loewy directed Nine, a Carbonell-recommended spectacle of fine acting and stellar vocals.
Based on a book by Groucho’s son, Arthur Marx, and co-author Robert Fisher, Minnie’s Boys is a song-packed reiteration of the Marx Brothers’ early years – times tainted by financial difficulties, sibling struggles and a general lack of direction. Clearly, it took a long time for the Marx magic to catch on.
The show is truly the story of their mother, Minnie, who molded, shaped, encouraged, cajoled, pushed and yanked her youngsters toward their eventual success.
Actress Melody Lieberman masterfully portrays the matriarch of the Marx clan with determination mollified by compassion. Minnie’s character sort of parallels Rose Hovick in Gypsy, the mom who smother-mothered her daughters into becoming stars — actress June Havoc and legendary stripper/entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee. While Rose left scars, Minnie leaves smiley faces.
“I love this show,” says director Loewy. “It’s rarely done. It has a great score by Larry Grossman, and it’s full of humor and heart.”
Loewy pulls together an excellent cast – players who slowly transform into the comic brothers who regaled film, radio and later TV audiences.
Jonathan Eisele, in his fifth show at Broward Stage, is practically a clone of Julius Marx (Groucho), particularly toward the ends where he slaps on a big mustache and twitches a cigar. He perfectly adopts Groucho’s hunched walk.
Michael Brown portrays Adolph Marx (Harpo), the so-called “silent brother” whose character uses horn-honking and whistling instead of speaking — a permanent Harpo trait. Will Nash Broyles is Leonard Marx (Chico), the brother with such a serious gambling problem that he often endangered the act.
The lesser Marxes are portrayed by R.J. Magee as Herbie (Zeppo) and Steddy Amory as Milton (Gummo). Performing as the brothers’ dad, Sam “Frenchie” Marx, who was actually of French descent, is actor is Ben Prayz, another stage vet with three notches at Broward.
Minnie’s Boys unfolds in skit fashion. Act I has seven scenes; Act II, five. Each scene features one or two songs. Perhaps the best known is “Mama, a Rainbow,” sung lovingly by Adolph to his mother after the family forgot her birthday.
The show’s opening tune, “Five Growing Boys,” shows Minnie hanging clothes with her neighbors. It offers thumbnail views of the Marx boys and their idiosyncracies – and the descriptions aren’t good.
Music gets something of a bad rap as the Marx brothers try to make it as vocalists, specifically as “The Nightingales,” either one, two, three or four, depending on how many showed up. They were usually shooed off by thrown produce.
Success and failure weave a pattern throughout the production. The boys lament “Where Was I When They Passed Out Luck?” backstage in Chicago after wiping out on stage. But the tables turn with the song, “Hello, Big Time” featuring Ellie Pattison as Mrs. McNish, who gets them a gig at the Palace.
Minnie pours out her heart when she sings, “They Give Me Love,” a ballad that sustains her through tough moments as she thinks back to the good things her sons have done for her.
Also in the cast are Matthew Korinko in no fewer than seven different roles; Sean Dorazio, Whitney Grace, Hilleah Neve, Caterina Randazzo and Ashlley Rodriguez.
Dave Nagy is musical director. Set design is by Michael McClain, lighting design by Dean Landhuis, sound design by Rushnay Henry and costumes were crafted by Jerry Sturdefant.
Minnie’s Boys plays through Aug. 6 at the Broward Stage Door Theatre, 8036 West Sample Road, Margate. Showtimes are Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $48 and are available by calling 954-344-7765 or by visiting www.stagedoorfl.org.