Brooklyn may have produced Barbra, but the Bronx gave us Carl Reiner and Joseph Stein, both of whom gave us the comedy show that started it all, "Your Show of Shows," and the latest revival of "Enter Laughing: The Musical."
Based on Reiner's semi-autobiographical novel about David Kolowitz, a young man obsessed with becoming a Broadway star despite having minimal talent and a funny face, this charming musical will touch both your heart and your funny bone.
"Enter Laughing" started out life in 1963 as a straight play with a year-long run on Broadway. It was subsequently adapted for the screen with an all-star cast, but someone knew it needed music. The first attempt at turning the play into a song-filled version was in 1976, under the title of "So Long 174th Street," starring a miscast 45-year-old Robert Morse. It tanked quickly.
Thirty-one years later, the York Theatre Company's "Musicals in Mufti" series offered several stage readings of a revised version, renamed "Enter Laughing: The Musical," and a hit was born. The York's has now staged "Enter Laughing" as a full-scale production and it is the darling of the off-Broadway season, complete with an upbeat score by Stan Daniels.
David Kolowitz is a young man growing up in the Depression with overprotective parents who want him to be a pharmacist because it's a safe profession. People always need drugs. An obedient son, David has a steady job working for Mr. Forman in a machine repair shop to help earn money for pharmacy school, but his heart isn't in it. Armed with nothing but a dream, he answers an ad to audition for a show.
It's clear at the outset that David is talent-challenged, but he possesses a certain charm that the director can live with, and a je ne sais quoi quality that the director's daughter would like to live with. Besides, no one else would be naï¿½ve enough to take a role where the actor pays the director to act in a dreadful play in a fly-by-night outfit. It's a plot made in comedy heaven.
David works at the shop by day (thank goodness he didn't quit this job) and rehearses secretly at night. It's a Jewish guilt trip that stops only when his parents come to the realization, albeit grudgingly, that their son's dreams might be worth pursuing after all.
Josh Grisetti as Reiner's alter-ego David, reminds us of a young, rubbery Ray Bolger with the same nervous energy. His hyena-like laughter in the show-within-a-show, as he reads the stage directions aloud and steps all over the other actors' lines, is the classic stuff of comedy. Though in looks he resembles Martin Short, he's a chick magnet who grows his daydreams into epic numbers like "David Kolowitz: The Actor."
Supporting him is a fine cast, several of whom must take on double roles to help defray the costs of this shoe-string production with a few well-known names. Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker, an off-stage married couple who were headliners in television's "L.A. Law," play the angst-ridden on-stage parents of their seemingly ungrateful boy. Eikenberry's "If You Want to Break Your Motherï¿½s Heart" is a song for all mothers, not just Jewish ones, as she chides David about giving up her dreams for him.
Tucker has a nostalgic duet with Ray DeMattis, who plays Mr. Forman, in which they commiserate about kids today in "Hot Cha Cha." Veteran Broadway star Bob Dishy, as Harrison Marlowe, brings down the house with his deadpan "The Butler's Song," in which David, imagining he's a superstar, refuses all calls as he's too busy "screwing Dolores Del Rio."
The dance numbers, perfectly sized for the York's tiny stage, throw in lots of strange characters, including the Pope, and give the show and audience a lift that extends well beyond the theater. "Enter Laughing: The Musical" is good fun, and if you don't leave laughing, you'll certainly leave with a broad smile
Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus