Low on plot and high on shtick, Palo Alto Players’ production of A Day in Hollywood A Night in the Ukraine, is a truly peculiar, motley mix of old Hollywood tunes and vintage Marx Brothers. While maybe not the most mentally demanding, this light and silly shows certainly gives your brain a brief chance to relax from its likely state of political outrage. It’s not serious in the least except in its professional presentation, and it’s a show that as far as I’m concerned is in the right place in the right time.
For the first half, our ensemble ushered in a musical revue sprinkled with old Hollywood stories, slapstick and creatively presented, classic tap dance numbers. A talented cast delighted with their dance, amused with their acting and impressed with bonus musical skills. Packed with hummable tunes and toe tapping throughout, The Production Code number was a joy and a half, showing off some great tap skills (hardly ever seen these days.) Even the set design highlighted the humor, whimsy and nostalgic grandeur.
The cast all seemed to have the vocal prerequisites, but not everyone seemed to hit the mark in the singing department. It very much seemed a case of good singers not singing their best that night. With just two lovely pianos providing the core musical accompaniment, staging that made use of aisles and the full height of the stage, and some initial echo in the mics, this may just have been an issue of not being able to hear themselves correctly. While a handful of less technically precise performances did create an unfortunate balance and consistency issue, ultimately there was so much else going for the show, it wasn’t an insurmountable obstacle.
I’m sure when you’re considering producing this show you look at obtaining a strong triple threat cast all around, but a Groucho for the second act is essential. It’s a high bar that history set and luckily, our Groucho is sheer perfection. His timing, impossibly rubber body and palpable rapport with rest of the cast and the audience was everything you’d want in a comedy. The second half runs the gamut from smirks and chortles to snickers and full-fledged laughter thanks in large part to Groucho.
Chico had a charm to spare and a mischievous smile that went on for days. Harpo was everything you’d expect too and the three had a chemistry that felt supremely fated. Madam P brought the house down with her stuffy, straight-laced, straight man/woman played expertly in contrast to the chaotic mayhem that whipped around her. Our lovers shone bright in their gloriously dim naiveté. It was an act that was over too quickly for me.
Indeed, this is an endeavor well worth the venture for a toe-tapping escape of much-needed laughter. 4 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a fun night with gimmicks galore and a throwback to the glamour days of cinema. A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine plays through February 5th, 2017 at the Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto.