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For more than 30 years, John Kiesewetter has been the source for information about all things in local media — comings and goings, local people appearing on the big or small screen, special programs, and much more. Contact John at

Playhouse staff made their marks on public TV's 'Groucho' show

Frank Ferrante performed his Groucho Marx show with accompanist Gerald Steinbach at the Rosenthal Shelterhouse Theater in 2017.
Courtesy Frank Ferrante
Frank Ferrante performed his Groucho Marx show with accompanist Gerald Steinbach at the Rosenthal Shelterhouse Theater in 2017.

Groucho Marx impersonator Frank Ferrante praises the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park staff for the staging of his one-man show, which premieres on Cincinnati TV Wednesday June 1.

Actor Frank Ferrante has performed as Groucho Marx in 500-plus cities over 38 years, but it was the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's elaborate staging which convinced him to film Frank Ferrante's Groucho here for public TV stations.

"We had a Broadway-caliber set at the Cincinnati Playhouse. Every piece of furniture was so perfect for the show," Ferrante says.

His Frank Ferrante's Groucho premieres 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 1, on CET Arts (Channel 48.3) and repeats five times. Since April 1, it has aired in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Kansas City, Denver, Washington D.C., Miami, Minneapolis, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Austin, Albuquerque, Nashville, Louisville, Indianapolis and Columbus.

Ferrante, who often does one-night or weekend shows in cities, brought his Evening With Groucho to the Rosenthal Shelterhouse Theater in November-December 2017. The extended run allowed the Playhouse staff to create a unique set for Ferrante, who performs Groucho Marx's greatest hits — the funniest insults, one-liners and songs from Night At The Opera, Duck Soup, Animal Crackers and other Marx Brothers movies.

After Ferrante and his longtime stage director Dreya Weber had many conversations with Playhouse production manager Phil Rundle, set designer Tammy Honesty built a marquee on the proscenium that could display photos of brothers Harpo, Chico and Zeppo Marx; actress Margaret Dumont; and comedians Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields as Ferrante told Groucho's stories about them.

The marquee over the stage projected images of the brothers Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx and scenes from their movies.
Courtesy Frank Ferrante

"The beautiful marquee had the title of the show, so you felt like you were in that world, and I could play off of Chico and Harpo, and the audience got to see Margaret Dumont in all her elegance. This was the first production that implemented a visual element," says Ferrante, who performs his one-man Groucho tribute with pianist Gerald Steinbach.

In the center of the stage was a sturdy, flat chaise lounge which Ferrante could hop on or over as he cavorted on stage singing "Lydia The Tattooed Lady," "Whatever It Is I'm Against It," "Hooray For Captain Spaulding" and Groucho's other signature songs. (Here's my Nov. 8, 2017 review, "Hooray For Frank Ferrante!")

"The chaise lounge didn't have a back so it doesn't block anyone's view. It could take my weight. I could jump on it," Ferrante says.

For his one-night stands, and his publicity photos, Ferrante has a traditional sofa on stage. His typical road show also has about three dozen lighting cues. But for the intimate 172-seat Rosenthal Shelterhouse, Playhouse lighting director Mark Williams had "a couple hundred lighting cues. We could light it like a musical or a play, not a show that's being put up in a day," he said.

"Cincinnati was willing to make the investment. It's not cheap to build a set like they built and pay designers," he says.

Frank Ferrante Productions
Ferrante's publicity photos taken before his 2017 Cincinnati performances showed him on a couch, not a chaise lounge.

That's why Ferrante and Weber asked permission to film the show. Playhouse artistic director Blake Robison gave them permission, and arranged a free show for subscribers to watch the filming.

"It's not easy to get something filmed. Most theaters won't let you do it. I wanted to preserve it while I was still in what I would call me prime," says Ferrante, a Marx Brothers fan since age 9who owns Groucho Marx Productions Inc.

"Dreya and I decided this was the best place to film it. The set was so beautiful at the Playhouse with the marquee, and this show was on a roll!"

Robison says "we loved the idea that viewers all over the country would see a show from the Playhouse in the Park. We have a lot of pride in what we do in Cincinnati."

Dreya Weber's handheld camera provided intimate closeups for "Frank Ferrante's Groucho."
Courtesy Frank Ferrante
Dreya Weber's handheld camera provided intimate closeups for "Frank Ferrante's Groucho."

The Frank Ferrante's Groucho TV show actually was filmed during four performances from three different angles. Weber, the film's director, also shot some of the footage with a hand-held camera.

"She was following me, behind my shoulder, into the audience and around the stage. I think the reason this show works better than most is that it's not static," he says.

Weber, daughter of Cincinnati actor Jenny Trier, also edited the TV show during Ferrante's 18-month break from touring during the pandemic. Ferrante found sponsorships to get it distributed nationwide by American Public Television and pay "tens of thousands of dollars" for the music rights. He's now talking to APT about international distribution.

"What turned out to be a pet project ended up on television. I'm so happy with it," he says.

"Frank Ferrante's Groucho" airs six times on CET Arts (Channel 48.3) June 1-3.
Courtesy Frank Ferrante
"Frank Ferrante's Groucho" airs six times on CET Arts (Channel 48.3) June 1-3.

Ferrante also thanked me for championing the show. When I wrote a March story about the Playhouse in the Park production coming to national TV, the programmer for WCET-TV and sister WPTD-TV in Dayton told me the stations would not broadcast it. The programmer had confused Frank Ferrante's Groucho with Ferrante's 20-year-old pledge drive special as Groucho.

Within hours the station manager told me they had changed their minds, and the show would air on the CET Arts (Channel 48.3) digital subchannel — but not the main Channel 48 or Dayton's Channel 16.

"This is a Cincinnati show. It was done by a Cincinnati theater, filled with Cincinnati audiences, with Cincinnati references. Cincinnati should see it. The fact that it might not have been shown at all was heart-breaking. And the fact that you stepped in — I'm really grateful," he said.

After premiering at 8 p.m. Wednesday June 1 on CET Arts (Channel 48.3), Frank Ferrante's Groucho also airs on Thursday June 2 at 8 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.; and on Friday June 3 at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Channel 48.3.

It also airs in Ohio on WEAO-TV (Akron) and WNEO-TV (Youngstown) at 9 p.m. Saturday, June 4; and on WOUB-TV (Athens) and WOUC-TV (Cambridge) on Friday June 3 at 10 p.m., and Friday June 10 at 10 p.m.. Here are broadcast dates for other states.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.