“It went very well. A sellout audience, literally no seats left, for all the performances,” exclaims Jim Beckerman, co-writer of the script and composer of the music for the new show, The Most Ridiculous Thing You Ever Hoid. “The audiences seemed to be really into it. The tap dancing cleaning ladies, don’t ask, stopped the show every night!”
Jim is no stranger to the New Jersey music scene, and a familiar name to many Jersey music aficionados. He was the long-time keyboardist of the acclaimed band The VooDudes, and more recently, leads The Noisy Neighbors. He also plays with The Hammers, and released a solo CD.
“This new show was totally the idea of Andy Seiler, my co-writer,” explains Jim. “We’re both Marx Bros. fans from way back. He had come upon a book of published scripts from a little-known radio series the Marx Bros. had in the early 1930s called Flywheel, Shyster And Flywheel. The show was a flop, so copyright was never renewed on the scripts. They were just kind of stuck in a drawer and forgotten for 60 years, until a scholar named Michael Barson rediscovered them and published them as a book. It was Andy’s idea that you make a nifty play just by taking some of the best episodes and shaping them into a coherent storyline.
“It was my idea to add a song or two, since all the Marx Bros. movies had songs. But the songs by me and Andy came out pretty well, so for better or worse, we added more. And more. There are now 12 songs in the show, pretty much a standard size score for a traditional musical. I should add that shortly after Andy came up with this idea, he became disabled by a serious illness. So the show was completed by me and another guy, Fred Wemyss, another die-hard Marx fan.”
The show was picked up by the Bergen County Players, and garnered accolades from all who attended the initial performances. “We were happy to see that our own jokes got as many laughs as the original ones from the old radio scripts,” Jim relates. “No one we talked to afterward seemed to know which jokes we wrote and which were authentic Marx Bros. material. A good sign! And I’ll never forget a bunch of our friends showing up in the audience wearing Groucho glasses and fake mustaches!”
Musically, it was challenging to put it together due to a number of factors. “I really loved the songs from the old Marx Bros. movies,” recalls Jim. “That requires some explaining, because most Marx Bros. fans HATE the songs from the movies, and think they get in the way of the comedy. What they’re thinking of is those awful operatic interludes from A Night At The Opera, The Big Store, and so on. But the early Marx Bros. movies like Duck Soup and Horse Feathers really had great songs, funny songs. Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, the songwriting team who wrote their best films, were kind of like an American Gilbert & Sullivan. We tried to capture that quality. Also, the music is really different for all of us, not rock, not blues, but ‘30s swing and jazz-influenced show tunes. As I said, a big departure from our norm.”
A good sign is the fact that the songs seem to be memorable. “The actors tell me they have the songs stuck in their heads, which I guess is a good thing,” laughs Jim. “I tell them to think of ‘The Girl from Ipanema,’ because once you think of it, it drives any other songs out of your head! Then it erases itself.”
The other major challenge is the fact that theater music requires a different mindset, both in the writing and the performance, than what the typical Jersey club band will ever encounter. “This is a totally new experience for me and my bandmates,” Jim continues. “We’re all bar band veterans. We’re used to playing in clubs, and being loud, and sipping beer between songs, and having a TV set playing the Mets game while we’re on. So this is a real meeting of two worlds, actors and theater people on one hand, and on the other a bunch of bar band musicians who don’t know upstage from downstage. But it seems to be working out pretty well.”
With a successful, albeit short, run under their belt, Jim and his partners are looking to bring it to the next level. “The next stop is to try shopping it to some professional theaters, which we’re working on,” he says. “We’re certainly hoping this goes further. Where, is anybody’s guess.”
There is a cast album from the show available, which includes not only the songs from the show, but some of the dialogue as well. If you’re a Marx Bros. fan, or a fan of Jersey music, I can promise you it will be “the most ridiculous thing you ever hoid!”