“The Coconuts were sort of a fluke,” says Lake Highlands resident Bo Gerard of his musical and comedy show Groucho and the Coconuts – A Marx Brothers Revue.
“But it was such a hit, we decided to keep the Coconuts going.”
Gerard, along with fellow Lake Highlands resident John Rainone and Winston Stone, formed the group more than 10 years ago to customize entertainment for a 92nd birthday party.
“Bo called one day – said this guy wants a vaudeville-type show. Bo does Groucho, and he knew I had done Chico,” Rainone recalls. “We had so much fun doing the gig. We thought, ‘We could make a band out of this.’”
They’ve been performing together ever since.
Gerard, as Groucho, takes care of the lead vocals, drums, musical saw and magic in the performance. Rainone, as Chico, plays the piano and the accordion. Stone, as Harpo, perfects the harp, clarinet, sax and flute. And Gerard’s wife, Gretchen, was recently written into the performance as Lulu.
Their act combines novelty songs from the ‘30s-‘50s with magic, classic Marx Brothers’ comedy and plenty of audience participation. They play a variety of events, including festivals such as Taste Addison and corporate gatherings at places such as SBC, United Way and Ford Motor Credit.
The three men have been in the entertainment business for about 25 years each or, as Gerard likes to say, “75 years total.”
Gerard, originally from New York, started his career as a recording artist.
“I actually signed a with a label. I did a rock opera, and all of a sudden I made the seque to musical theater,” he says, pointing out that he performed in two national tours with the hit Broadway musical “Barnum,” which starred Jim Dale and Glenn Close.
“It was sometime around then when I started doing magic. It took off, business-wise.”
Gerard and Gretchen started Gerard Entertainment in 1979, and have been running it together ever since.
They moved to Dallas in 1984 in order to take advantage of the area’s conventions and theaters, but Gerard admits his career in comedy and magic quickly started to outweigh his theater work.
That’s when he ran across Rainone, who was performing in the same circuit as Bonkers the clown.
The two became friends and in 1992, when Gerard moved to Lake Highlands, they even became neighbors.
Rainone, the bona fide Marx Brothers aficionado of the trio, says he began watching classic Marx Brothers films such as “Duck Soup” and “A Night at the Races” when he was a student at SMU.
“We used to do skits of the Marx Brothers,” he says.
Eventually he would try out and get the role of Chico in a Theater Three production of “The Coconuts.”
“I figured everybody would be trying out for the other two. I figured I had a better chance if I showed them I could play the piano,” he recalls. “Being an Italian, the accent came naturally and everything just sort of fell into place.”
So of course Rainone has felt right at home doing Groucho and the Coconuts from the get go.
“One reason why we do this – all of us make less money with this band than our separate acts – is that it’s fun and unique. We get to do jokes and make people laugh,” he says.
Stone, the only non-Lake Highlands resident of the group (something Gerard says he is trying to remedy), plays regularly with the Dallas Symphony, Fort Worth Opera and Dallas Summer Musicals when he’s not doing Coconuts gigs.
In the future, the band hopes to increase the number of shows they play.
“We are always adding stuff,” says Gerard, “and there’s always something new.”
“It’s good to keep their [the Marx Brothers] spirit alive. So many icons from that era are fading away, [but] they’re still hanging in there, and it’s nice to have a throwback.
“But,” he says, “nobody needs to know who Groucho or the Marx Brothers are to enjoy the show. We still have to be funny, and we still have to make good music.”
For information visit bogerard.com.