`Groucho' blends the antic and nostalgic in a stage tribute

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Groucho: A Life in Revue Written by Arthur Marx and Robert Fisher. Directed by Mr. Marx. The antic and the nostalgic blend harmoniously and often hilariously in ``Groucho: A Life in Revue,'' by Arthur Marx (Groucho's son) and Robert Fisher. The new entertainment at the Lucille Lortel Theatre balances its admiration for Groucho the entertainer, with a certain candor about his offstage alter ego, particularly his stinginess and failure as a husband.

In his uncanny physical and vocal impersonation, Frank Ferrante gives us Groucho with and without makeup. The portraiture naturally favors the manic frenzy of his leering, loping rascals (Captain Spaulding, et al.). But it also recalls the Groucho of TV's long-running ``You Bet Your Life'' and the frail but intractable octogenarian of the 1972 Carnegie Hall appearance. His views on life, comedy, marriage, and women are characteristically expanded in interviews with two female reporters (both played by Faith Prince).

``Groucho's Memories'' (as the two acts are subtitled) revels in a grab bag of reminiscences, Marx Brothers gags, and low-comedy routines, outrageous puns, and Groucho song specialties.

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Early on, he explains the origins of their stage nicknames: ``Groucho'' because of his disciplinarian tendencies and grouching; ``Chico'' (pronounced ``Chick-o'') because of his girl-chasing; and ``Harpo'' for the instrument from which the eloquent mime turned to execute rhapsodic arpeggios.

The show also touches on Groucho's family relations (particularly with his two most famous brothers), his financial ups and downs, his affinity for Gilbert and Sullivan, and a cultural range that stretched from show biz to Shaw and beyond.

Mr. Ferrante has succeeded to an admirable extent in depicting both the private Julius Henry (Groucho) Marx and the bespectacled anarchist of the ferocious moustache and errant eyebrows. The principal player is greatly helped by Les Marsden, who nimbly doubles as Chico and Harpo (performing both harp and piano), and the engaging Ms. Prince in a variety of roles, including the ever redoubtable Margaret Dumont.

A small backstage combo led by keyboardist James-Paul Grady provides deft accompaniment for the musical numbers.

The production's visible assets include Michael Hotopp's ingeniously adaptable scenery, Richard Winkler's lighting, and Baker Smith's authentic costumes. This ``Life in Revue'' is a treat to review.

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