The title doesn’t give you an inkling of the number of times you will be laughing loudly as well as wondering where this hilarious and joyous musical comedy has been all these years. Whoever had the idea to revive the musical (previously titled “So Long, 174th Street”) should be applauded. Spawned from Carl Reiner’s 1958 semi-autobiographical novel “Enter Laughing” and the hit 1963 play of the same name, this is a charming/disarming story, set in the 1930s, of a young man from the Bronx who wants to be an actor. There was even a film version in 1967 that was only modestly appreciated. It eventually became a musical in 1974 starring Robert Morse, but it quickly disappeared.
A wondrous mix of fantasy and honesty, wit and whimsy, “Enter Laughing The Musical” has what it takes this time to run a long, long time. Don’t worry about the closing date posted below. This is one show that is sure to be extended and most likely moved to more permanent quarters. As you experience the utter joy of this almost forgotten show, you may be tempted to wonder what other gems are waiting to be revalued.
The hilarious 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 (“Forever Plaid”) and the adventurous York Theater Company. It’s hard to imagine a better cast. Josh Grisetti, a talented young performer who looks like a young Ray Bolger, is a pleasure to watch and root for as the questionably talented, unquestionably impassioned 19-year-old David Kolowitz who, despite the obstacles, 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 (George S. Irving), 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, Irving is superb in the same role he played over 30 years ago. Wow!
Much of the 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 (Janine LaManna), the leading lady. LaManna, who most recently wowed us as the glamorous, highly theatrical prima donna Janet Van De Graaff in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” vies for the most laughs in the show singing “The Man I Love,” a side-splitting parody of torch songs 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, ranks with the funniest I’ve ever seen. Along the way, David has to cope with his traditional Jewish parents (Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker), who would prefer that their son go to school to become a pharmacist. What a treat to see Eikenberry, last seen in “A Picasso” at the Manhattan Theater Club, not only cut up with the rest of the cast, but get her own moment to shine in the solo “My Son, the Druggist.”
Tucker, a familiar face from his stint as Stuart Markowitz in the hit TV series “L.A. Law,” turns the “Hot Cha Cha” into a breezy vaudevillian showcase, as co-partnered by the marvelous Ray DeMattis, who plays David’s boss, the proprietor of a machine shop and the purveyor of a Yiddish-ism for every occasion. Other excellent performances come from Emily Shoolin, as Wanda, David’s devoted girlfriend, and the drolly comical Erick Devine, as Pike, the acting school’s over-worked stage manager.
There are many near-show-stopping musical numbers, including the classic and uproarious “The Butler’s Song,” as delivered with uppity panache by Mr. Irving, and “Boy, Oh Boy, a truly exuberant ensemble number that closes Act I. A trio of musicians does more than simply play the delightful 16-song score with gusto, but I won’t give away that bit of fun. ****
“Enter Laughing The Musical,” through October 26, the York Theater Company at the Theater at Saint Peter’s, Lexington Avenue just south of 54th Street. $57.50. 212-935-5820.