Sunday, February 1, 2009

Review of "Enter Laughing"

Enter Laughing, the musical revival receiving a sparkling production at the York Theatre Company, has had a storied history. Its genesis began with a 1958 autobiographical novel by the mult-talented Carl Reiner. That begat a successful 1963 stage adaptation by Joseph Stein which, in turn, became a 1967 film version. In 1976, Stein and Stan Daniels reworked the story into a Broadway musical, entitled So Long 174th Street, that bombed after 16 performances. Fast forward over 30 years to the Fall of 2008 where a revised edition of the musical opens to stellar reviews and, then finally, is brought back by the York Theatre Company for an encore engagement through March 8th.

Enter Laughing revolves around young David Kolowitz, a stage-struck and would-be Casanova who finally realizes his ambition of becoming an actor. In order to consummate his dream, Kolowitz must deftly handle his jealous girlfriend, an unsympathetic boss, and his overbearing mother. The show is very funny and, at times, laugh outloud hilarious, especially the scenes of David attempting to rehearse his big, break-through role. The musical boasts an exceptionally talented cast, the most notable being Josh Grisetti, as the determined David Kolowitz. Grisetti, gangly, charming and self-confident, succeeds in his quest, in spite of himself. His struggles to rehearse a simple laugh are uproarious. Veteran Bob Dishy, as the boozing, pompous, second-rate theater actor, Harrison Marlowe, is a pure joy to behold. Dishy’s comic timing and mannerisms could be a master class for would-be thespians. Marla Schaffel, playing Dishy’s onstage daughter, Angela, demonstrates real musical comedy prowess, especially during the show within a show finale. Lastly, Jill Eikenberry, most well-known for her role on television’s L.A. Law, in just a nod or shrug pours on the Jewish guilt better than my grandmother. Eikenberry’s real life husband, Michael Tucker, who plays her fictional spouse, David’s father, has a rather lackluster role, but his Act Two dance routine, "Hot Cha Cha," with Ray DeMattis is an absolute gem.

The score by Stan Daniels, performed by a three piece pit band, while not containing any memorable songs, is fun, sometimes bawdy, always entertaining within the context of the show. The sets and costumes are minimal but, here, less is better. The direction and musical staging by Stuart Ross is crisp, energetic and allows the actors the freedom and flexibility to make Enter Laughing such an enjoyable evening of theater.

In a theater season being known more for what has closed than what has opened, Enter Laughing provides the New York stage with a much needed shot in the arm.

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