I’ll Say She Is is a Marx Brothers musical revue that opened on Broadway in 1924. The book and lyrics were written by Will B. Johnstone; the music was written by his brother, Tom Johnstone. It was the Marx Brothers’ first Broadway show, and it was a big success.
Noah Diamond has adapted the review for the Off-Broadway stage. It’s been produced at the Connolly Theater by Rest of the Crew Productions, Loobit Ventures, Trav S.D., Deroy Murdock, Stephen Diamond and Gimme a Thrill Productions.
Mr. Diamond has given the original some considerable reconstruction. His chief source was a 32-page rehearsal script of the show – rough dialogue with song titles and cues. He’s added to this other scripts of scenes, “first-hand recollections”, material from other musicals by the original authors and material from columnists. He’s written some new lyrics to Johnstone songs from other productions, as well. In all, his original contributions make up half the lyrics and a third of the book.
The review is held together by a sketchy narrative about Beauty, the wealthy ingénue who wants a thrill. She’ll reward whoever gives her one, and this conceit is enough of a hook to give the whole review its thrust. It’s an excuse for a series of silly, appealing sketches and songs. Beauty is whisked off to Wall Street, to Central Park, and to an opium den. There are 11 chorus girls, and there’s also a ballet, an apache dance and a harp solo for good measure.
The wisecracks, puns and ad-libs come without a stop. The show’s zenith is a sketch in which Groucho plays Napoleon, exiting and re-entering several times as Josephine (that is, Beauty) keeps company with his advisers. As the other brothers hide he says “Ten seconds I have been gone and she is still vertical.”
And there’s a skit in which Groucho plays Fairy Godmother to Beauty’s Cinderella, in a ridiculous fairy costume. “You know, they won’t let me use the bathrooms in North Carolina,” he says to us.
Four actors do a terrific job of impersonating the Marx Brothers. Noah Diamond himself plays Groucho; Matt Roper plays Chico; Matt Walters plays Zeppo; Seth Shelden plays Harpo. Melody Jane, a fine singer, is terrific as Beauty.
Still, some of the show falls flat. Humor isn’t constant across generations, and what worked for audiences in the 1920’s doesn’t necessarily work today. Amanda Sisk’s direction is crisp and suitably zany, always in control, but she lets the pace lag from time to time.
Nonetheless having this review on our Off-Broadway smorgasbord is a happy event. It’s great to see silverware dropping from Harpo’s sleeve, and the shoes that he pulls from inside his overcoat. I’ll Say She Is is totally enjoyable, if not the smashing success of the 1924 production.