BWW Review: Based on Carl Reiner's Classic, Hilarious ENTER LAUGHING, THE MUSICAL Returns To The York
Though the 1976 musical SO LONG, 174th STREET didn't even last a fortnight on Broadway, it wouldn't be surprising to see the York Theater Company's completely delightful revised version, ENTER LAUGHING, THE MUSICAL, return the Joseph Stein/Stan Daniels effort to the main stem someday, especially if director/adaptor Stuart Ross' slam-bang mounting keeps getting a little snazzier and a little funnier every time they bring it back.
The source material comes from beloved comedy genius Carl Reiner, whose 1958 semi-autobiographical novel "Enter Laughing" told the story of David Kolowitz, a 17-year-old Jewish Bronx boy growing up in the 1930s who obsesses over girls and has dreams of becoming a famous actor, despite parental insistence that he goes to pharmacy school, marry a nice girl and has a safe, normal life as a druggist. Stein adapted the book into one of the hit Broadway plays of 1963 and then teamed with composer/lyricist Stan Daniels to convert the piece into a musical.
Star power for that '76 production was provided by the significantly older than seventeen Robert Morse, playing the role in a two-act flashback, but the adolescent sexual fantasies that made up many of the musical sequences probably lost their innocent charm when played by a grown man.
But the eventually recorded (mostly) original Broadway cast album, featuring Morse, George S. Irving, Loni Ackerman and Kaye Ballard (added for the recording) helped the very funny score achieve cult status among collectors. Concert productions by both Musicals Tonight! and the York proved the show to be a crowd pleaser when the book was revised to turn David back into a teenager for the whole evening and the enterprise was rechristened with the more familiar title, ENTER LAUGHING, THE MUSICAL.
Prominently credited with having written additional material, director Ross worked with Stein (who passed on in 2010, three years after Daniels) for the York's brief 2008 production, which was so well-received it was brought back months later for a lengthier run that prompted rumors of a Broadway transfer.
The major difference between that production and the original musical was that the intentionally sophomoric humor had been greatly decreased, with a couple of songs deleted and others trimmed. (The adorably, and hilariously, smutty "The Butler's Song" remained completely intact.) Further work has been done by Ross for the York's new production, and while the musical remains enormously funny, the tone is much more sympathetic and heartfelt.
At the center of it all is the sweet and charming Chris Dwan, whose David has a gentle puppy-dog sincerity about him, whether he's trying to act suave in front of attractive women, doing bad imitations of Ronald Colman or completely freezing with stage fright in a disastrous (and wonderfully funny) stage debut.
David's questionably big break is supplied by the questionably legitimate Marlowe (plummy-toned David Schramm), whose acting academy is simply an excuse to get inexperienced hopefuls to pay money for the honor of playing supporting roles in productions starring him and his man-crazy daughter, Angela. Farah Alvin is a blast as the sexually-frustrated actress who tries seducing David in her dressing room and sings a wildly torchy number about the low standards she sets for finding her dream man. ("He must have skin," is one of her requirements.)
David's fantasies are more focused on the sophisticated secretary known only as Miss B. (Dana Costello) and Daniels provides the pair with a terrific love song pieced together with lyric fragments from hit tunes from the day. ("There's a small hotel / Where you can do do that voodoo you do so well.") But our hero remains loyal to his girlfriend Wanda, played with dorky sincerity by Allie Trimm, who shows off a bluesy belt in another comic highlight, where she sings of the grade school boys who wronged her in her pre-teen years.
Alison Fraser is lovingly manipulating as David's mom, nailing laughs with "If You Want To Break Your Mother's Heart" and Robert Picardo, as his menschy pop, and Ray DeMattis, as his crusty employer, bring down the house with a song and dance about the irresponsibility of 1930s youth, "Hot Cha Cha".
Even the York's producing artistic director James Morgan gets into the act this time before the show is done.
Whether or not Broadway's calling ENTER LAUGHING, THE MUSICAL this time around remains to be seen, but audiences at the intimate York will surely have a grand time.