Theater, radio to partner at Engle Lane

Streator production opens Thursday

There isn’t much Marx Brothers theatrical material that hasn’t been done at Community Players of Streator, but that hasn’t stopped the group’s members from searching for more.

Dan McKenzie, Streator’s resident Marx Brothers fanatic, has found some more and adapted it into “The Misadventures of Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel,” a musical comedy being presented starting Thursday.

The Marx Brothers were at their peak decades ago, and “Misadventures” will be presented as radio theater, which never has been staged as Engle Lane.

“It’s hard to imagine after 65 years there’s something that hasn’t been done. We’re excited to do it,” McKenzie said.

Radio was king when Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx were movie stars, yet they also were involved in other mediums when they weren’t making films.

In 1988, according to McKenzie said, radio scripts were discovered for the show, “The Misadventures of Flywheel, Shyster & Flywheel.” Thought to be lost, the shows were divided into 26 episodes in 1932 and 1933.

“I think I used part of 10 scripts. I turned it into a hopefully cohesive script,” said McKenzie, who portrays Groucho in his second of four Marx Brothers plays Engle Lane has staged.

McKenzie, La Salle’s Alex Guerrero (Chico) and Long Point’s Emma Reel (Harpo) will provide most of, but not all, of the laughs.

“I tried to share the wealth with all of the non-Marx Brothers cast members,” McKenzie said.

Sharing the stage will be Ottawa’s Brian Steep, who will be the onstage foley (sound effects) artist.

“It adds an added level of challenge that the character himself is just props and sounds with little interest in what’s going on around him. I’d like to think I’m slowly layering the character to wind up with an understated, but entertaining performance,” he said.

Guerrero is the only actor who has played Chico, the same Marx Brothers characters, in Engle Lane plays “The Cocoanuts,” “Animal Crackers,” “A Night in the Ukraine” and “Misadventures.” When he tried out for “The Cocoanuts” in 2015, one Marx Brothers play was all he anticipated.

“It was a one-chance opportunity. Four was unexpected. I’m excited. I was happy to say ‘sure, I’ll do it one more time.’” Guerrero said.

“A lot of the antics and gags are the same style. But it’s nice to have the chance to do different material.”

An integral part of many Marx Brothers films was actress Margaret Dumont, who would play a wealthy widow being wooed by Groucho. Kelly Lefler, of Long Point, has been in all four Engle Lane Marx Brothers shows, but until now has never portrayed a Dumont part.

“I’m not allowed to smirk. I have to play it straight,” said Lefler, adding she is delighted to be back in a production at Schiffbauer Center, which has not hosted a show in nearly two years, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It could be the last Marx Brothers show at Engle Lane, since the amount of such material is scarce.

“The cow is almost out of milk. But the Groucho in me would say ‘never say never,’” McKenzie said.

Running Thursday, Sept. 16, through Saturday, Sept. 18, (curtain times 7:30 p.m.) as well as Sunday, Sept. 19 (curtain time 2:30 p.m.), “Misadventures” will be staged in the William C. Schiffbauer Center for the Performing Arts, 1012, Columbus Road, Streator.

General admission will be $10 at the door. To learn more, visit englelane.org.

Directed by Angie McKenzie, and assisted by Dalton Dean, the play will include original musical by Dan McKenzie and Alex Guerrero, with costuming and specialty props by Marlee Reel and Kelly Lefler and set design by Angie McKenzie.

The material in this production has been adapted and expanded by Dan McKenzie and derived from the public domain 1932-33 NBC Radio series “Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel,” written by regular Marx Brothers writers Nat Perrin, Arthur Sheekman, George Oppenheimer and Tom McKnight.

Cast members include: Marx Brothers characters Dan McKenzie, Alex Guerrero and Emma Reel; as well as Kelly Lefler, Marlee Reel, Nick Yanek, PJ Olsen, Griffin Tabor, Rick Lefler, Mark Fulkerson, Alyssa Guerrero, Dawn Cardwell, Brian Steep, Melody Reel, Rylee Reel and Colby Reel.