People of a certain age will remember the ads for Beatlemania, the touring show that recreated the Fab Four onstage. While it was not the real thing, it was an incredible simulation.
So The Cocoanuts is Marx-mania. It's the not the real thing, but a mostly enjoyable simulation. A trio of game actors step into the greasepaint mustache, fake accent, and bicycle horn of the madcap trio for a revival of their 1925 stage show.
Of course, if you want to see the real deal, the film version of The Cocoanuts is readily available. So the thrill has to come from seeing it live. The actors certainly make it worthwhile, and the moments of crazed humor are plenty of fun. The play, however, comes with a needlessly complex plot about jewel thieves and Florida land deals that gets in the way of the fun.
Mark Bedard plays Groucho, who this time out is running a failing hotel somewhere in Florida. His lone remaining bellhop, Robert (the straight-man Marx, Zeppo) knows he can make Groucho's nearby development a success, if he can just convince someone he is really an architect. And then he could have the women of his dreams, Polly Potter.
Chico and Harpo enter the fray soon after, getting in the way of not just Groucho's plans, but those of a pair of nefarious thieves, Penelope and Harvey. The routines, bad one-liners, and endless word play are all here, with a scene involving a pair of hotel rooms, a communicating door, and all four Marx Brothers being particularly memorable.
Some of the best moments come when we move away from the familiar Marxist routines and the secondary characters get the spotlight. Trent Armand Kendall plays a bumbling detective who is chasing Chico and Harpo. They run circles around him, and even steal the shirt off his back. That leads to a real highlight, as Kendall gets to unleash a tune about not having his shirt to "Habenera" from Carmen.
Oh, I forgot to mention that this is a musical too, with songs by Irving Berlin. This really was the entertainment event of 1925. And the comedy and the music are well performed and a lot of fun to listen to. But the play starts to drag whenever we have to go through the seemingly endless machinations of the plot. We're used to a lot more shorthand in our comedies these days, and a lot of this could have been trimmed to keep up the comic pace.
The Cocoanuts looks great (Meg Neville's art-deco inspired costumes are a particular delight) and it is mostly fun. Whether it's worth spending the cash here in place of a DVD reissue of the film is up for debate.
IF YOU GO
Through Jan. 3
818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612-377-2224 or visit online.