Off-Broadway Review: "Enter Laughing - The Musical"

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  • Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic and Guest Reviewer for the New York Off Broadway scene

The Big Apple called me, and I really wanted to pay a visit. I also knew friends would be in town and they had already booked me a seat with them to see ‘Enter Laughing, The Musical’.  I knew nothing about the play but recognized several names in the production’s credits and thought to give this one a go at it.

The title of the play is a misnomer. I didn’t enter laughing.  Instead, I exited with one of the biggest grins on my face for laughing myself silly at this 1930s screwball New York musical comedy bordering on the hysterical with so much frigging talent on the stage at The York Theatre Company. There were times I didn’t want to breathe because I did not want to miss a spoken or sung word from the extremely clever and witty dialogue.  Magnificent stuff going on here.

Based on Carl Reiner’s semi-autobiographical novel and Joseph Stein’s stage adaptation, this ‘knock ‘em dead, kid’ musical follows central character David Kolowitz (a marvellously charming Chris Dwan who dances like Fred Astaire and smiles like Gene Kelly) in 1938 New York City, and his desire to pursue a career in show business via the theatre instead of studying to become a druggist where his parents really want him to be. Along the way, we follow David’s side-splitting antics where we meet his overbearing mother and over protective father (wonderfully quirky performances by Alison Fraser and Robert Picardo), his true love, Wanda (a pouty Carole Lombardish looking Allie Trimm), his loyal and trusted friend, Marvin (a dashing Joe Veale) and his grumpy boss, Mr. Forman (an endearing Ray De Mattis). Rounding out this terrific company of performers are Raji Ahsan, Farah Alvin, Dana Costello, Magnes Jarmo and David Schramm who play a few other roles as we watch David’s comic rise to stardom.

The three-piece orchestra sits far stage left and is in fine top form. For this rollicking, side-splitting comedy to work, it’s extremely important to be able to hear each word sung from the lyrics. Thankfully and successfully, that one’s accomplished. The performers double as the stage crew in moving the set pieces around from scene to scene. How truly fun it is to watch these actors even having a ball in seamlessly and effortlessly keeping the pace up and moving each scene along.

Director Stuart Ross never, ever allows the ensuing hilarity to get out of hand, and I found this performance never bordered into the silly where I kept thinking enough already. Phil Reno’s music direction is heaven to hear with the harmonies and melodies. Jennier Paulson-Lee’s choreography is sharply tight. This eleven-member cast found their stride and their moments in telling the story, and what zany ones they are.  I don’t want to spoil all the fun for future audiences; however, I would like to point out some top-notch work.

David Schramm’s portrayal of the gruff and overbearing theatre producer Marlowe is stellar nostalgia. He is a reminder of the stuffy Orson Welles a la ‘Citizen Kane’ combined with Burl Ives’ Big Daddy from ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ combined with a dash of Sebastian Cabot. Mr. Schramm’s tour de force second act ‘The Butler’s Song’ is a piece de resistance not to be missed. Farah Alvin (as Marlowe’s spoiled diva actress daughter Angela Marlowe) and Dana Costello (the alluring receptionist Miss B) become the sexy symbols of David’s foray into manhood. The comic timing of Ms. Alvin’s pratfalls and near misses during David’s opening night performance is comedic mayhem at its finest. Ray DeMattis and Robert Piccardo’s eleven o’clock number ‘Hot Cha Cha’ in the second act is pure gold to watch and to hear.

Final Comments: ‘Enter Laughing, The Musical’ is one of the reasons why you must try to get yourselves to New York to see at least one show. In a highly charged political world climate which now envelops us, we need the opportunity to have a good belly laugh. Go see this one.

‘Enter Laughing, The Musical’ has been extended to June 16 and is playing at Saint Peter’s, Entrance on 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue, New York City. For tickets, telephone (212) 935-5820 or visit www.yorktheatre.org for further information.

Running time is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

Book by Joseph Stein with Music and Lyrics by Stan Daniels

Additional material by Stuart Ross, based on the Play by Joseph Stein 

From the novel by Carl Reiner

The Cast: Raji Ahsan, Farah Alvin, Dana Costello, Ray DeMattis, Chris Dwan, Alison Fraser, Magnes Jarmo, Robert Picardo, David Schramm, Allie Trimm, Joe Veale

Scenic Design: James Morgan; Costume Design: Tyler M. Holland; Lighting Design: Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz; Sound Design: Julian Evans; Properties Design: Brooke van Hensbergen

Wigs & Make-Up Designer: Kenneth Griffin.

Photo of Dana Costello and David Schramm by Genevieve Rafter Keddy.