WILLIAMSTOWN -- Hooray for Captain Spaulding! There's zany antics, slapstick comedy, zingers, puns and a whole lot of running taking place on the Main Stage of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, where director/adapter Henry Wishcamper has brought the Marx Brothers classic "Animal Crackers" to life.
And what a show it is! There's hardly a moment of downtime, as the show's actors dance, sing and entertain with vaudevillian hijinks, while also managing to get in a few jabs at the rich as they cross the stage and run through the aisles.
Set in the late 1920s, the musical comedy opens just before the guests arrive at a swank Long Island party honoring the just-returned African explorer Captain Spaulding (Joey Slotnick as Groucho Marx).
The hostess, Mrs. Rivenhouse (Ellen Harvey), is also planning to unveil a priceless painting during her soiree -- a feat she hopes will help land her debutante daughter, Arabella (Mara Davi), a husband, or at least get her featured in the society pages of the local newspaper. But not all of the guests are anxious to see Mrs. Rivenhouse succeed.
There's plenty of scheming by Mrs. Whitehead (Davi), a woman from the "wrong island" raised in stature by her marriage, and her sister, Grace Carpenter (Renee Elise Goldsberry).
When the painting disappears, everyone is a suspect and Spaulding is unwillingly enlisted to help solve the caper. The party's guests all have their own secrets to hide and scheme about, including the young ingenue Mary (Goldsberry) and John (Adam Chanler-Berat), who are hoping for big things to happen to them; the wealthy Rosco W. Chandler (Jacob Ming-Trent), who isn't whom he claims to be; musician Emmanuel Ravelli (Jonathan Brody as Chico Marx); "The Professor" (Brad Aldous as Harpo Marx); and society columnist Wally Winston (Joey Sorge), who's always on the lookout for his next scoop.
The production has the right blend of music, comedy, romance and nonsense to induce side-splitting laughter paired with moments hat keep you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of the next big laugh or chase scene.
One of the benefits of the show is the performances of Slotnick, Brody and Aldous, who could easily be caricatures of the Marx Brothers in the roles of Spaulding, Reville and The Professor.
Instead, each has seemingly embodied his respective brother before taking on the additional roles. It's easy to forget that Groucho, Chico and Harpo aren't actually on stage.
All of the show's nine cast members play multiple roles in this pared-down production, but Davi and Goldsberry steal every scene they appear together in as Grace and Mrs. Whitehead -- two slinky high-pitched socialites looking to stir up some trouble. The pair is hard to miss in their additional roles, as Goldsberry wows with her vocal range and Davi's numbers are a delight to watch as she dances her way across the stage.
There are however several hiccups in the production. Act 2 doesn't flow as smoothly as its predecessor, as the productions slides from a cohesive tale into a string of vaudeville acts somewhat connected to the overarching plot. There's also a disconnect between Slotnick and Harvey, who doesn't respond to the captain's quips fast enough or with enough panache. But those falters are miniscule in the overall production.
Hailed by the festival as "family-friendly" and great fun for kids, I decided to put those claims to the test by bringing my 8-year-old son along for the show. Not only does the claims hold up, but for days afterward, he regaled anyone who would listen (and could understand him through his fits of laughter) with re-enactments of Harpo's antics or his recollections of Groucho's zingers.
Hooray for Captain Spaulding! Hooray for side-splitting fun that can be enjoyed by the entire family.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email