On Stage

The Cocoanuts

A Marx Brothers remake

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What: The Cocoanuts

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When: {calendar:event_start_date format="%g"} {calendar:event_start_date format='%a %D., %M. %j'}

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Where: Phil Tarro Theatre, Skagit Valley College

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WHEN: Jan. 30-Feb. 2, Feb. 6-9

Cost: $7-$17

Info: http://www.skagit.edu/drama

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Damond Morris centered his dissertation on the topic of vaudeville in Oregon state during the Great Depression, so he’s thrilled that a Marx Brothers remake of The Cocoanuts is currently playing at Skagit Valley College’s Phil Tarro Theatre.

As the chair of the drama department at SVC, Morris had some say in this season’s theatrical lineup, but he didn’t have any control over an unforeseen accident that caused him to have to recuse himself from bringing the play to fruition.

Knowing the show must go on, Morris handed off the reins to choreographer Glynna Goff, who took over as director. And in addition to her duties as musical director, Diane Johnson has been leading the crew in the scene shop and was responsible for pulling the actors together for extra rehearsals during the recent winter storms.

Luckily, Morris’ synapses are still firing, so he was able to provide an in-depth explanation about why producing The Cocoanuts is such a big deal. The show is based on the 1926 play and subsequent 1929 film by the Marx Brothers, he notes, with text by George S. Kaufman and music by Irving Berlin.

“The musical itself, while popular, was lost to history,” Morris furthers. “We had Kaufman’s book but Berlin’s score was lost. Mark Bedard with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival put it back together using Kaufman’s book and pulling Berlin’s music from the Library of Congress.

“The musical is now a hilarious nonstop pun- and wordsmith-fest for Groucho, with the slapstick comedy of Harpo and Chico, beautiful music with wonderful Berlin harmonies from the ensemble, a jewel heist centered around a femme fatale, and a story of denied love between bellhop Zeppo and a high-class heiress. The wacky structure could only be a Marx Brothers musical.”

Morris points out that the play also serves as a history lesson. He says the Marx Brothers represent the vaudevillians who survived the economic crash that forced many entertainers out of the industry during the Great Depression, and were also able to adapt to the technological transitions in film and radio during that same time frame.

The Cocoanuts learning curve extends to its cast and crew, which is comprised of both SVC students and experienced actors from the regional theater community. Students Matthew Small (Zeppo), and Tanner Cobbel (Chico) are working with Matthew Riggins (Groucho) and John Gonzales (Harpo) in the main roles and Morris says the dynamics between the “brothers” and the leadership roles all the actors have taken during the process hearkens back to how the play was originally created.

The Cocoanuts was moved from the stage to the silver screen,” Morris says, “and now we are placing it back where it belongs—onstage.”

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