Enter Laughing Returns After a Decade, and It's Still Hysterical
The off-Broadway company revives its hit 2008 production to kick off its 50th anniversary season.
It should come as no surprise that off-Broadway's York Theatre Company would revive one of the most successful productions in its history to kick off its golden anniversary season. Enter Laughing: The Musical enters laughing from the second the lights go down, and though the 2019 cast doesn't reach the gut-busting levels of farcical hilarity of the 2008 company, Stuart Ross's production is still an early summer delight that feels like comfort food for the musical-theater soul.
The history of Enter Laughing is checkered at best. Inspired by Carl Reiner's semiautobiographical novel about breaking into showbiz, the material was adapted as a play by Joseph Stein (Fiddler on the Roof), who further adapted it into a musical called So Long, 174th Street, with eight-time Emmy winner Stan Daniels (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) penning the score. So Long said farewell to Broadway after 16 performances in 1976, and according to York Theatre lore, when they were considering revisiting it for their Musicals in Mufti reading series, the pressure was on for them not to.
But a full staging proved to be an unlikely hit in 2008, leading to an extended run and return engagements. It's one of those shows that felt like lightning in a bottle, a notoriously hard essence to re-create with the full effect. Though I didn't laugh nearly as hard this time around, I did sit there with the biggest grin on my face from start to finish.
Enter Laughing looks at a week in the life of David Kolowitz (Chris Dwan), a horny 17-year-old growing up in the Bronx circa 1930. Obsessed with movies and doing impressions of actors like Ronald Colman, David stumbles his way into an audition for a role in a play by Harrison Marlowe (David Schramm) and lands it, not because he's a great actor, but because Marlowe's daughter Angela (Farah Alvin) has the hots for him. Just don't tell David's steady, Wanda (Allie Trimm). As the days till the big show draw near, everything that could go wrong does — especially when David's parents (Alison Fraser and Robert Picardo) decide to enroll him in pharmacy school as an alternative.
Most notably, the original York production served as an introduction to the rubber-faced Josh Grisetti, who had an award-nominated debut as David, and a victory lap for elder statesman George S. Irving, who reprised the role of Marlowe, which he originated in the short-lived Broadway version. Dwan is a fine, handsome talent, but he doesn't possess the nebbishy neuroses that made Grisetti so compulsively hilarious. Schramm, meanwhile, makes a whole five-course meal out of Marlowe, particularly the second act's comic high point, the bawdy fantasy number "The Butler's Song," where Marlowe details all of David's sexual escapades with famous actresses ("No he can't call you back at five-thirty / at five-thirty he humps Alice Faye / then Jean Harlow at seven / Mae West at eleven / and somewhere between them, Fay Wray.") The remaining cast members are thoroughly charming.
Every element of Ross's staging is witty, from set (James Morgan) to choreographed scene changes (Jennifer Paulson-Lee). New audiences will find a lot to love in this musical comedy from yesteryear, while returning theatergoers will remember what it feels like to reconnect with an old friend they've been dying to see again.