Last night was a perfect night to get away from baseball for a brief time. I have little to no interest in the Home Run Derby, especially since ESPN insists on jamming that annoying Chris Berman down our throats.
I decided to check out a new play about Stalin and Marx. Just not the Marx you'd guess. Harpo, not Karl.
"A Night In The Kremlin" opened last night at the June Havoc Theatre on W. 36th Street in Manhattan. It is part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
A few months back, I got to know Bernard Besserglik, the play's author, through the site Facebook. He discovered my love of the Marx Brothers and their films. He let me know he had written a play that was coming to New York in July, a wacky farce about Harpo Marx and his trip to Soviet Union in 1933. I was certainly fascinated by what Bernard said, and I took him up on his offer and attended last night's premiere.
Mr. Besserglik is a London-born former foreign correspondent who now lives in France. He spent a number of years in Moscow and has always been fascinated by the Russian people. He wrote "A Night In The Kremlin" with Bob Barton, who wrote the music for the play.
Harpo actually did go to the Soviet Union in 1933, on a goodwill tour of the country. The play is highly fictionalized, and it is done in the Marx Brothers "over-the-top" style. Harpo's travelling trunk is the centerpiece of the story, in which he meets the General Secretary of the Communist Party and attempts to help a pair of star-crossed Russian lovers.
The show reminded me in parts of "The Producers," taking a figure from history and twisting him and twisting him. Stalin is shown with Harpo, donning the eyeglasses and mustache in a funny Groucho routine. The show has a very talented cast, and there's plenty of singing and dancing, with Jeff Essex as Harpo and Angus Hepburn as Stalin both giving terrific performances. It's hard to believe anyone could make Stalin funny, but Mr. Hepburn does a terrific job at that.
As the years have gone on, I've come to enjoy live theater more and more, especially in this intimate setting. (The theater holds just about 100 people.) I really felt like I was part of the performance, and the actors (who had to act as stage hands before, during and after the play) really gave a spirited performance. I had the pleasure of being with Mr. Besserglik (who came in from France for the run of the play) before and after the play, and met many of his friends who also came in for the opening night.
I definitely recommend "A Night In The Kremlin." It's a great spoof with lots of catchy tunes and fine performances from a relatively unknown cast. The play will be at the June Havoc until August 3rd. You can check out the show's web site for more information and how to get tickets.