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The Cocoanuts

There may be an ulterior motive for the selection of this amusing retread of the classic Marx Bros film, Cocoanuts.  Nostalgia buffs will note the vaudeville turns and silly slapstick that characterized the transition from vaudeville act to full-length comedies taking place onstage during the early part of the 20th century. The ulterior motive, though, may stem from the currency of the story: a lampoon of the Florida land rush in the 20s. Today we’re seeing the same escalation of housing prices in 2016 dollars, showing that the more things change the more they stay the same!

Recreated at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in loving detail by director Melissa Rain Anderson, this adaptation by Mark Bedard brings in the original songs by Irving Berlin, adds a few adapted by Festival veteran Gregg Coffin and spruces up the dialogue for all ages to enjoy.  It’s astonishing to relive the enduring appeal of the three Marx brothers (HarpoTasso Feldman; Chico – Jim Poulos: and GrouchoJohn Plumpis), but few remember their straight-man brother, Zeppo (John Wascavage), here playing the romantic lead in the story.

While Zeppo as the bell hop and the beautiful ingénue, Polly Potter (Anna Landy), hope to run off together and live in a little bungalow in the Cocoanut housing development, now only dirt lots, Polly’s mother has other ideas; she favors portly Harvey Yates of the “Boston Yateses,” (Michael A. Harding) as a bridegroom.  In turn, the penniless Yates turns to an accomplice (the incomparable Melinda Parrett) to purloin Mrs. Potter’s diamonds.  Their cloak and dagger routine marks the centerpiece of the farce, with wonderfully elaborate slamming doors, mistaken identities and mayhem.

Needless to say, in keeping with our Shakespearean festival theme, “All’s well that ends well.”  But along the way, you too, will fall in love with Feldman’s Harpo, and swoon to Zeppo’s romantic overtures.  And rumor has it that the actors playing Marx brothers here are known to ad lib as baldly as the originals.

Anyone who remembers 30s kitsch will enjoy the setting (by Jo Winiarski), and Moderne-style interior lobby for the Cocoanuts Hotel, complete with circular poof-couch and five-piece band. The colorful costumes by Bill Black complete the picture. Did we ever really ask bell-hops to wear pill box hats?

Tireless behind-the scenes-efforts from voice and text (Michael J. Barnes) to fights (David Woolley) and dance choreography (Natasha Harris) pay off, making Cocoanuts, not only a walk down memory lane, but a fresh new frolic.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival unfolds through October 22, 2016 in Beverley Center for the Arts in both the Randall L. Jones Theatre and the new Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre just off the campus of Southern Utah University with summer and fall offerings. Tickets range from $20.00 to $77.00; phone 1 (800) PLAYTIX or online at Walk-up box offices are now located outside the new Eileen and Allen Anes studio theatre, just east the corner of 300 West and Center Streets in Cedar City, Utah, 84720.