Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Animal Crackers

Book by George S. Kaufman & Morrie Ryskindanimalcrackerslogo

Music and Lyrics by Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby

Adapted & Directed by Henry Wishcamper

Music Director Doug Peck

Choreographer John Carrafa

At the Go0dman Theatre

Hilarious family-friendly Broadway musical farce one of 2009’s best shows!

Graucho quotes from Animal Crackers:

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.

Then, we tried to remove the tusks, … but they were embedded in so firmly, we couldn’t budge them. Of course, in Alabama the tuck-a-loosa.  But that’s entirely ir-elephant to what I was talking about.

Africa is God’s country–and He can have it.

We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren’t developed. But we’re going back again in a couple of weeks!

“Ever since I met you, I’ve swept you off my feet.”

“You mind if I don’t smoke?”

“There’s one thing I’ve always wanted to do before I quit: Retire.”

“I was outside the cabin smoking some meat. There wasn’t a cigar  store in the neighborhood!”

Credit the Goodman Theatre for having the chutzpah to mount the 1928 Broadway musical, Animal Crackers, especially with an original take by adapter/director Henry Wishcamper. Animal Crackers featured the zany comedy of the four Marx brothers: Graucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo.


But the show is also a complete musical featuring 18 songs by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby that include cute numbers like “Hooray for Captain Spaulding,” tap numbers like “Three Little Words” featuring the outstanding hoofers Tony Yazback and Mara Davi. There are several love songs sung by Jessie Mueller and Ed Kross  such as “Who’s been Listening to My Heart?,” “Why Am I So Romantic?,” and “Watching the Clouds Roll By.”  There is a smart jazz number, “The Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me” that music arranger Doug Peck made zing.


Besides all excellent tunes and the fine dancing (on Robin Vest’s impressive set), Animal Crackers is indeed one super funny show  featuring the amazingly talented Marx Brothers. Graucho’s vaudevillian persona shown through his zany walk, mustache, eyebrows, glasses  and cigar together with his wacky wordplay is in good hands with Joey Slotnick–who seems to be channeling Graucho. Slotnick has Graucho down–the walk–the facial expressions and the winks to the audience. He anchors this production.

Jonathan Brody, a Ravelli (Chico) retorts with Graucho, plays the piano and sings plus he does shtick with Harpo. We was brilliant as the Italian. Molly Brennan brings her 500 Clown talents to the tough role of The Professor (Harpo), the silent, very physical comic who works  frantically for laughs.  Ed Kross doubles as the romantic John Parker and Horatio Jamison (Zeppo)–Grauchio’s straight man.


The cast of nine dedicated players all the roles deftly. Ora Jones, as Mrs. Rittenhoues, Graucho’s comic foil was a hoot. Jones not only demonstrated her comic chops but danced and sang in style. Tony Yazbeck and Mara Davi sang and danced divinely while Jessie Mueller vocals were wonderful. Stanley Wayne Mathis was a triple threat and a funny comic as Chandler and Hives.


This show is a gem! Filled with so much comedy in so many styles plus it has terrific 20’s style show tunes and expert tap dancing–what’s not to like? Animal Crackers is a tight, flowing and superbly staged musical farce that will tickle your funny bone to the max. I can’t think of another way to introduce  young people to the wacky world of the Marx Brothers–then for them to see Animal Crackers at the Goodman Theatre. It wouldn’t hurt if you watch Animal Crackers on  Netflix before you see the Goodman’s live production. Actually, you’ll enjoy it better with some reference to the film and the wild antics of the Marx brothers. Animal Crackers is a major achievement for the Goodman Theatre. This production needs to go to Broadway.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

At the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-443-3800,, Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 2 & 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 pm, special Tuesday performance on Oct 13 at 7:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 25 minutes with intermission.

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