nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
September 6, 2008
George S. Irving is delivering a master class in comedy with his performance in the York Theatre Company's production of Joseph Stein and Stan Daniels's rarely seen musical Enter Laughing. Irving plays the same role he essayed in the original Broadway production, then called So Long, 174th Street, which co-starred Robert Morse and lasted a total of 16 performances.
Enter Laughing is based on Joseph Stein's hit play of the same title, which, in turn was based on (or at least suggested by) the "autobiography" of the same title by Carl Reiner. It details a week in the life of a geeky, gawky young Jewish kid from the Bronx, David Kolowitz (called Koklovitz in Reiner's book), a delivery boy with dreams of becoming an actor. The woman-struck Kolowitz must contend with the Jewish guilt laid on by his mother, attraction to every woman who walks by, and the fact that—well, he's just not that great an actor.
And Enter Laughing isn't the greatest musical ever written, either. Stein's script is very funny; Daniels's score is very catchy and memorable, but it seems like the whole thing works better as a small play. The first act is a bit overlong; the second is considerably stronger and funnier. Yet Stuart Ross's skilled production, filled with one of the strongest casts I've seen in a long time, truly makes a case for Enter Laughing as an undiscovered gem of American musical theatre, rather than a 16-performance flop.
The cast is filled with a mixture of old pros and talented newcomers, from Josh Grisetti as David to the aforementioned Irving as Marlowe. Grisetti captures the geeky charm of David and has a knack for physical comedy. Playing his parents are real-life married couple Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker. Eikenberry isn't the strongest singer, but she authentically captures the art of delivering Jewish guilt. Tucker is good in a not-so-showy role, but has a delightful number in the second act with Ray DeMattis's Mr. Forman. Broadway favorites Janine LaManna, as Marlowe's vampy actress daughter, and Robb Sapp, as David's best friend, are always a welcome presence and are quite fun to watch.
You can tell the entire cast is having a great time and that's what makes Enter Laughing so enjoyable. But it's Irving who steals the show. The theatre veteran, in his mid-80s, has the presence, charisma, and comedic skill that so few actors have today. His delivery of his big second act number, the bawdy "Butler's Song" ("He's screwing Dolores Del Rio…"), is utter perfection and one of the highlights of my theatergoing year. After seeing and hearing his delivery, it's no wonder why that song has become a staple of his career.
Everything is pared down in this production to fit the York's playing space, from James Morgan's set (a theatre) to musical director Matt Castle's demure band consisting of bass, percussion, and piano. It works for this version, though I can't help but wonder how the original orchestrations sounded. Ross's musical staging is clever and creative, making great use of the space, as well.
Not everything is destined for Broadway, and perhaps Enter Laughing (or, So Long, 174th Street) never should have played there to begin with. Some things just don't click with audiences. As I was leaving, I overheard two women talking. "This is where A Catered Affair should have played." I couldn't help but agree.
Enter Laughing and A Catered Affair couldn't be more different. However, they're both small shows, perhaps overshadowed by the bright lights of Broadway. It's good that places like the York exist. Maybe in ten years, they'll introduce A Catered Affair, that forgotten gem, to a production better suited for the material.