Book by Joseph Stein (from the novel by Carl Reiner)
Music and Lyrics by Stan Daniels
A musical comedy that really is a comedy with a capital "C," this is, minute-for-minute, Enter Laughing is one the funniest shows you’ll ever see – musical or otherwise. It’s one of those properties that’s been around: Carl Reiner wrote the original novel as what’s generally described as a “semi-autobiographical fiction" in 1958, early in his career, but in memory yet green of his younger years. Which means that he incorporated some of his personal show business experiences, but it wasn’t specifically his own life story. In 1963, Joseph Stein (best known for Fiddler on the Roof, also currently playing off-Broadway) adopted it into a play which became a movie four years later. Both the play and the film were successful, but the musical adaptation, originally titled So Long, 174th Street, was originally a notorious flop, only playing 16 performances on Broadway in 1976. Somewhere along the way, someone somehow “fixed” it (a few songs were dropped, among other things) – and now retitled Enter Laughing: The Musical, it was a notable hit at the York Theatre in 2010, and now a laugh riot to compare with even The Producers or Book of Mormon. In fact, this may be the only musical where the climactic moment is not a production number but a comedy bit, in which a novice actor has to learn how to deliver a stage laugh.
The York has revived their revival for their 50th anniversary season, and it’s a perfect show for the intimate space. This is the only musical by Stan Daniels who, like Reiner, was a highly-acclaimed, multi-award-winning TV writer and director. The action is set in the later years of the Great Depression, and the songs are, like those of Dames at Sea and even much of Follies, written in a pastiche style evoking much of 1930s movie and show tunes: “The Man I Can Love” is at once a sultry torch song and a parody of same (for which Farah Alvin plops herself atop the piano, a la Helen Morgan), “Boy Oh Boy” is a funereal fantasy set to a minor key klezmer melody, “Hot Cha Cha” is an 11th hour number in which two altercockers (Ray DeMattis and Robert Picardo, Star Trek: Voyager’s iconic “Doctor”) indulge in the swing style of the young whippersnapper boychicks. The funniest may actually be a love song “You,” performed by lead Chris Dwan and Dana Costello, set to a Cole Porter-esque beguine, which references several dozen classic ‘30s songs by Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Irving Berlin and company. The cast is game, particularly James Schramm as a flamboyant thespian, singing “The Butler’s Song,” a grandly comic turn which served as the late George S. Irving’s signature “party piece” for many decades. (Also in the cast, one “Magnes Jarmo” as “Harry Hamburger,” who darn near steals the show – or something. He looks familiar, somehow, but I can’t place him.) I’ve been going to the York for well over 20 years, and this is quite possibly the most enjoyable evening I’ve ever spent there.
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