You can't break The Cocoanuts without a fall guy -- and Michael McGrath, who plays the Groucho Marx part in the Off-Broadway revival of that musical, flatly refuses to play one.
The Cocoanuts, which transferred from American Jewish Theatre to an open-ended run at the American Place Theatre, will close Sunday, Sept. 29 after 22 previews and 53 regular performances.
Raymond J. Greenwald, producer of the $750,000 revival, is pulling the plug on the musical at the American Place theatre after its Sunday, Sept. 29, matinee performance, and blame has been placed squarely on the shoulders of McGrath for not delaying his vacation a week until a replacement could be put into the production.
Stanley Brechner of the AJT aired the complaint in interviews with several New York newspapers Sept. 27, and McGrath responded through Playbill On-Line.
The whole charge is "a complete fabrication," says McGrath. "The truth of the matter is the show's closing simply because the producer didn't want to put my understudy on for a week while I take vacation. I'm well within my rights." One of the season's busiest performers, McGrath said he needed rest before starting rehearsals on the Broadway revival of Once Upon a Mattress, in which he'll play the jester.
"I've done the Groucho role for a long time, and it's been a long year for me," the actor admitted. "I will have done six shows this year [Swinging on a Star, DuBarry Was a Lady, Louisiana Purchase, Forbidden Hollywood, Cocoanuts and now Once Upon a Mattress] so I felt I had it coming.
"The whole question is: do you put the understudy on for a week, and then bring in Frank Ferrante -- who's one of the greatest Grouchos in the country -- starting Oct. 11? The producer, basically, threatened me Wednesday afternoon with 'Stay another week'--which I'm not contract for -- 'or we'll close the show.' Now, that was a little late in the game because I had already made plans to take my vacation, and some plans were made that just couldn't be changed. Also, there was no compensation offered above my actual salary."
Stanley Brechner, artistic director of American Jewish Theatre where the show originated, told the New York Post that McGrath's action cost 30 people their jobs, but the actor believes the blame is on the wrong doorstep. "The cast could not have been more supportive last night," he said Sept. 27. "They all rallied around me."
Responding to Brechner's comments, McGrath said, "It's crazy to close the show for that reason. [The understudy] was on for me Tuesday night the 24th and that's when this whole thing started. I had already given my legal notice, and everything was fun up until the 24th. Then, suddenly, they panicked and started to blame me, and there was nothing I could do about it -- except to say I don't think you should close the show simply because I'm not going to be on for week and then you're getting such a great replacement."
-- By Harry Haun