Enter Laughing, an off-Broadway revival of a renamed Broadway flop, shows what a difference it makes when quality material is put in the right hands. Producers, the creative team, and performers all deserve to take a bow for their respective roles in unearthing, polishing up, and brilliantly displaying this gem of a musical.
What 'Enter Laughing' is About
Enter Laughing revives a 1970s Broadway musical about an aspiring actor in the 1930s. Half the time young David Kolowitz works as a gopher at Forman's Machine Shop. Half the time he works toward his dream of acting. All the time he fantasizes about, lusts after, reaches for girls, girls, girls.
Meanwhile his mother works doggedly toward convincing him to go to pharmacy school; his main girlfriend encourages his dream of acting, so long as he ends up with a nice stable career; and his acting teacher thinks David has a future . . . in something else.
Enter Laughing takes place as much in David's active imagination as in the Bronx and Manhattan. The audience gets the full enjoyment of all the locales.
Even as we pull for David to escape the expectations of those around him and chase his dream, we know Enter Laughing is really about the magic of theater. We all see through it, we all devalue it, we all know it's an illusion, and we willingly let it fool us every time. It's an added bonus that with Enter Laughing, that magic is accompanied by a great book, super songs, and a whole lot of laughs.
What You'll Like About This Show
Let's start with Josh Grisetti as David. Perfect timing, great voice, Jim Carrey-like movements. Josh Grisetti is a star, and he makes this show.
Check that. Joseph Stein is a genius, and he wrote this show.
Stein, of course, of Fiddler on the Roof fame, turned an autobiographical novel by Carl Reiner into a hit play and then, with Stan Daniels, the creator of TV's Taxi, into a Broadway flop. Why it was a flop has nothing to do with Stein's book or Daniels' music and lyrics. (More on that later.)
Why Enter Laughing is a success at the York Theatre Company has everything to do with Stein's book, which is simply hilarious; Daniels' score, which is straightforward, clever, approachable, and fun; a host of spot on comedic performances; and director Stuart Ross' excellent staging. (This is the first musical I've seen, and I've seen a lot, where a scene change received a strong round of applause.)
People to Watch
In addition to Grisetti, there are his love interests, all queens of comedy: Tony-nominee Marla Schaffel as Angela; Emily Shoolin as the long-suffering Wanda; and Allison Spratt as Miss B.
Tony-nominee Bob Dishy is a scene stealer as the often-drunk, always-beleaguered actor/director Harrison Marlowe. Then there are Michael Tucker (of L.A. Law) as Father and Ray DeMattis as Mr. Forman who knock 'em dead with an 11 o'clock number called 'Hot Cha Cha.'
Last but not least is Tucker's wife and L.A. Law cohort Jill Eikenberry as Mother. She is a monument to Jewish mothers everywhere singing "If You Want to Break Your Mother's Heart."
Only go see Enter Laughing if you want to laugh for a couple of hours straight and leave the theater with tunes stuck in your head. And kudos to Jim Morgan and the York Theatre Company for getting us here. The York is committed to preserving and developing musicals (they do 40 free readings a year), and they found one worth preserving.
Enter Laughing was born on Broadway as So Long 174th Street. It starred an almost 45-year-old Robert Morse as the 20-something David, using flashbacks to insert him in the story. The audience didn't buy it, and very few bought tickets either. The show closed after 16 performances.
Stein kept working on it (and, in fact, is working on it still). I'd say he's just about there.
Opening: January 26, 2009
Closing: March 20, 2009
Run Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, with intermission
Where and When:
- York Theatre
619 Lexington Avenue (at East 54th Street)
- Show Times and Tickets