Photos by Carol Rosegg
By Karen Isaacs
Carl Reiner is a funny man. So when he wrote a novel that was then turned a play about his teenage years, it was funny. It later became a film and then a Broadway musical. Unfortunately the musical, titled Good bye to 174th Street, was for a variety of reasons (including some casting decisions) not a success.
Reconstituted as Enter Laughing (the title of the book, play and movie) the musical is now getting a joyous revival at the York Theatre. It’s already been extended multiple times.
The show is set in 1938 and David Kolowitz is desperate to get out of the Bronx neighborhood he grew up in, 174th Street. He wants to be an actor, but the teenager is living at home and working as a delivery boy in a small machine shop. At the urging of his friend he auditions for a scholarship at a small acting school/company. It is a marginal operation run by an egocentric former actor/director and his daughter. She likes David and so he is given the part of the leading man, but he must still pay $5 a week for lessons and provide his own costumes, including a tux.
Neither his parents nor his girlfriend are happy about his choice and his boss isn’t either when he must leave work early. When opening night comes, they all attend and though his performance is quickly frankly awful, cheer him on.
Onto this rather simple plot, Joseph Stein who wrote the libretto (Fiddler on the Roof and many more), has captured Reiner’s comic sense. There is a measure of farce in the show. The music and lyrics are by Stan Daniels. Director Stuart Ross is credited with writing additional material.
Multiple times we see David’s phantasies of wooing women or becoming famous. These are delightful
At the York, the cast of eleven, work on a small stage with the audience close at hand. It seems to simulate a small off-Broadway theater where David (who takes the name David Colman because of his admiration for Ronald Colman) performs.
The show may not be a great musical, but it is a delightful remembrance of an era that is long gone. In fact, the program includes a two page glossary of the 1930s film stars mentioned in the work.
What makes the show work is the fine direction and musical staging by Ross and the excellent cast.
Chris Dwan is delightful as David; he can obsess about women without becoming a creep and play the slightly obtuse, bumbling amateur to perfections. He is especially good in the fantasy sequences as he imagines his life as a movie star. In fact, the show’s opening number highlights that with a phantasy of him as a great movie star/actor. But later on you will be laughing riotously as he tries to do a “stage laugh”.
Among the fine cast, David Schramm is terrific as the egocentric theater director who is amazed and astonished as David’s ineptness. When first given a script to read, he reads the stage directions which include “enter laughing.” Schramm plays the part reminiscent of our memories of Orson Welles in his later years. In the second act he delivers a patter song “The Butler Song”. He is David’s phantasy butler and dozens of female movie stars are “seeing” him in the Biblical sense.
Also a highlight of the cast is Farah Alvin as Angela Marlowe, the 30ish daughter of the theater school director, who immediately falls for David. But her number “The Man I Can Love” is a delight.
In mentioning just a few of the cast, I do Nott want to slight anyone. All are very, very good. The lyrics are very clever and the music reflects the 1930s musical genres.
This is a show that is a total delight. It runs through June 23, though it has twice been extended.
For tickets, visit York Theatre.