Tuesday, April 29, 2014


I think the only song in the Broadway musical "Minnie's Boys" that in any way did justice to the Marx Brothers was a fake Groucho number called "You Remind Me Of You." It could've been sung to Thelma Todd or Margaret Dumont in one of their movies. The lines are just impudent enough for the real Groucho. Sadly, the rest of the show's numbers were instantly forgettable, except to vengeful newspaper critics.

In the early Paramount movies, it wasn't uncommon for Groucho to sing a novelty song (such as "Whatever It Is, I'm Against It"). He had his musical spot just as Harpo and Chico did. But apparently as Groucho began to dominate the group, and be the featured brother in the plot lines, it was felt that only Chico and Harpo needed a specialty number for their fans to enjoy. So at MGM, Groucho's numbers were sometimes not filmed, or left on the cutting room floor, including "I'm Dr. Hackenbush" which should've been in "A Day at the Races."

When Groucho and his brothers were rediscovered as anarchist geniuses in the late 60's and early 70's, only Groucho was still around to hear the applause. He was called back to perform one-man shows, and the Marx Brothers story was told in many books and, briefly, the ill-fated musical "Minnie's Boys." Groucho vehemently turned down the very Jewish and quite porcine Totie Fields as his mom Minnie, and ultimately approved the very busty Shelley Winters, who did look far more like Minnie than Totie did, and while Jewish, didn't "look it." It didn't matter if Winters could sing or not. At least, not to Groucho.

The script went through various changes, including a draft by David Steinberg, before Groucho's son, who had co-authored a Broadway hit called "The Impossible Years," came up with something nearly definitive. The show still needed some better jokes, but Groucho couldn't come up with anything great (he was listed in the Playbill as "Production Consultant"). Joseph Stein (of "Fiddler on the Roof") didn't seem to have a Marx Brothers rhythm to his jokes and nobody's sure if any were used. Two unknowns supplied the music and lyrics…Larry Grossman, and the unfortunately-named wordsmith Hal Hackady.

The show disappointed the critics. Clive Barnes in The New York Times wrote, "The idea of a musical on the Marx brothers before they really became the Marx brothers is splendid. What ever happened to it?" The only saving grace was the casting of Lewis J. Stadlen as Groucho. Stadlen was a natural mimic, being the son of cartoon-voice specialist and novelty singer Allen Swift (profiled elsewhere on this blog). Stadlen snagged the highlight comedy song, which helped him get the only good notices when the show premiered in March of 1970. And...14 years later...Tim Curry decided to revive it for his turn in a "Night of 100 Stars" stage event. Look out below for the link. And a note to purists, that IS Groucho's real nose, mustache, glasses and eyebrows Photoshopped onto Mr. Curry.


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