Review: ‘The Cocoanuts’ much more than just a revival

OPINION — Old is new again with the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s hilarious adaptation of the 91-year-old stage play “The Cocoanuts,” most famously brought to the stage and the more familiar big screen adaptation as a star vehicle for the Marx brothers.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival’s version, with George S. Kaufman’s book adapted by Mark Bedard and the legendary Irving Berlin’s music adapted by Gregg Coffin, serves as both an uproariously faithful homage to the wacky Marx brothers and, for the uninitiated, a perfect primer to the zany antics that made the brothers famous and brought vaudevillian style humor to the masses.

The actors who must perform their characters in the style of Groucho (John Plumpis), Chico (Jim Poulos), Harpo (Tasso Feldman) and Zeppo (John Wascavage) all deserve ovations for the manner in which they capture the original group’s madcap personae. They were able to achieve this while also expertly executing the often intricate comic timing, pun-laden wordplay and physical comedy (and singing!) that the Marx brothers perfected – a sort of thinking-man’s Three Stooges. This is a skill much harder to pull off than it appears. Simple silly is easy; wily wit is hard.

As a welcome reminder of the Marx brothers’ enormous contributions, “The Cocoanuts” would justify a visit. But what makes the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s version so special is the wonderful interpretations of Irving Berlin’s bubbly songs, which include the classic “Always” and a joyous cast that delivers director Melissa Rain Anderson’s marvelously brisk staging with vigor and charm while allowing for plenty of improvisation. Besides the previously mentioned actors, newcomer Anna Landy sparkles as Polly Potter.

In addition, a sprightly five-piece ensemble that performs on the vibrantly designed set influenced by the 1920s south Florida adds plenty to this delightful production.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival’s “The Cocoanuts” is not merely a revival but a fantastic celebration of musical comedy that no doubt will reward repeat viewings – on that you can bet your life.

• Event details and resources follow below •

The Beverley Sorenson Center for the Arts 2016 | Site map courtesy of The Beverley; St. George News | Click on image to enlarge
The Beverley Sorenson Center for the Arts 2016 | Site map courtesy of The Beverley; St. George News | Click on image to enlarge

Event details

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