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A CurtainUp Review
Previously titled So Long, 174th Street Enter Laughing was spawned from Carl Reiner's 1958 semi-autobiographical novel Enter Laughing and the hit 1963 play of the same name. It relates, in farcical terms, the charming memories (set in the 1930s) of a young man from the Bronx who wants to be an actor. A film version in 1967 was only modestly appreciated. It eventually became a musical in 1974 starring Robert Morse, but it sadly disappeared after only a few performances.
The comical book by the renowned Joseph Stein (Fiddler on the Roof) and the brightly melodic, pastiche-punctured score by the relatively unknown composer Stan Daniels have been given new life by director Stuart Ross who also directed previous revival in 2009( review that includes song list). It's hard to imagine a better cast than the previous version had but this one is comparable and sterling.
Chris Dwan, an endearingly rubber-faced and agile young performer is a pleasure to watch and root for as the questionably talented, unquestionably impassioned 19-year-old David Kolowitz who, despite the many obstacles confronting him, won't give up his dream of becoming a star.
The musical follows David's struggles as an inept, insecure novice dubiously learning the craft from Harrison Marlowe (David Schramm), an old ham and director of the acting school where he has earned a scholarship (a joke in itself). Far from being an old ham (even when consigned to playing one), but rather a revered veteran of the Broadway stage and well beyond, Schramm is nothing short of a side-splittingly funny scene-stealing show-stopper.
Much of the show's hilarity comes from seeing how David, after being serendipitously cast in a melodramatic piece of claptrap in the school's theater, survives the chaotic rehearsals as well as the seductive designs of Angela (Farah Alvin), the leading lady. Alvan vies for the most laughs singing "The Man I Love," a parody of a torch song while perched (more or less) atop a piano.
It all comes to an uproarious climax with David's performance, a catastrophe-riddled debut. That scene, involving missed cues is spectacle of mishaps rarely equaled on any stage, including those being perpetrated in the current hit The Play That Goes Wrong. Along the way, David has to cope with his traditional Jewish parents (Alison Fraser and Robert Picardo), who would prefer that their son go to school to become a druggist. What a treat to see gravel-voiced multi-awards nominated Fraser not only cut up with the rest of the cast, but really delight in two hilarious numbers — "My Son, the Druggist." and "If you Want to Break Your Mother's Heart."
In his bio, Picardo says he is "pleased to be back on the New York stage after a brief 40 year absence." Let's hope casting agents will see what a real trooper does with the terrific vaudevillian showcase "Hot Cha Cha." He is partnered by the marvelous Ray DeMattis who is repeating the role he played in the previous production of David's boss, the proprietor of a machine shop and the purveyor of a Yiddish-ism for every occasion. Other excellent performances come from Allie Trimm, as Wanda, David's devoted girlfriend.
Unlike many a new musical, all the songs are tuneful and typical of a passé genre in the best way. The most classic and uproarious is "The Butler's Song," as delivered with uppity panache by Mr. Schramm and "Boy, Oh Boy, a truly exuberant ensemble number that closes Act I. A trio of musicians play the delightful 16-song score with gusto.
The wondrous almost wrap-around setting of theater memorabilia and the faux theater proscenium displays the artistry of designer James Morgan. The costumes by Tyler M. Holland are mostly a hoot while the lighting by Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz contribute to make Enter Laughing a wonderful mix of old-fashioned musical comedy, fantasy and honesty.
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Book by Joseph Stein Music and Lyrics by Stan Daniels Additional Material by Stuart Ross
Based on the play by Joseph Stein, from the Novel by Carl Reiner
Direction and Musical Staging by Stuart Ross
Cast: Raji Ahsan (Pike), Farah Alvin (Angela Marlowe), Dana Costello (Miss B), Ray DeMattis (Mr. Forman), Chris Dwan (David Kolowitz), Alison Fraser (Mother), Magnes Jarmo (Harry Hamburger), Robert Picardo (Father), David Schramm (Marlowe), Allie Trimm (Wanda), Joe Veale (Marvin)
Scenic Design: James Morgan
Costume Design: Tyler M. Holland
Lighting Design: Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz
Sound Design: Julian Evans
Production Stage Manager: Chris Steckel
Musical Direction: Phil Reno
Choreographer: Jennifer Paulson-Lee
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including intermission.
The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s 54th Street Just East of Lexington Ave.
Tickets: $67.50 and $72.50; Students and Seniors $20.00 in person on day of performance.
From 05/07/19 Opened 05/16/19 Ends 06/09/19
Review by Simon Saltzman 05/18/19
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