Sweet and frothy as an egg cream, Enter Laughing: The Musical opened tonight as part of the York Theatre’s 50th anniversary season. Loosely based on Carl Reiner’s semi-autobiographical novel as well as Joseph Stein’s play of the same name, it charts the initial baby steps to stardom of David Kolowitz. Disinterested in his mother’s goal of getting him into pharmacy school, David jumps at the opportunity to fulfill his dream of becoming an actor by responding to an ad placed by the Marlowe Free Theatre. While he doesn’t lack passion, his knowledge of theater is so scant that he doesn’t know the difference between dialogue and stage directions. Despite this dearth of experience or apparent talent, the hormone driven lad attracts the attention of leading lady Angela and lands the role. The complications that evolve from his big break go beyond the challenge of learning his lines before opening night.
We are plunged into David’s world from the outset, with scenery by James Morgan built to resemble a typical backstage area. Set pieces that suggest the Kolowitz’s kitchen, the Marlowe Theatre, the repair shop where David currently works and more are wheeled in by the supporting players to keep up the frenetic pace. Clever costuming by Tyler M. Holland and wigs by Kenneth Griffin help embellish the atmosphere and provide additional comic moments. The lighting by Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz and sound by Julian Evans regularize the more far-fetched moments.
Taking a stylistic queue from New York circa 1938, director Stuart Ross ratchets up the screwball elements. The entire 2 1/2 hours are filled with high energy. David’s active imagination often colors what we see. The comedy is so big and broad you can practically hear the rimshots. Fortunately the flexible cast handles the pratfalls and double takes with ease. Those in smaller roles also fill out the musical numbers written by Stan Daniels and played by a trio (Phil Reno, Perry Cavari and Michael Kuennen) on stage left under Mr. Reno’s musical direction. Simple choreography which echoes that of MGM’s grand days is provided by Jennifer Paulson-Lee. Every word is crisply pronounced, the better to appreciate the good humor. A few of the highlights like The Man I Can Love and The Butler’s Song are included just for laughs rather than plot development. For those unfamiliar with the early days of Hollywood, a glossary of the famous people incorporated in the lyrics is included in the program.
Several of the actors sing with trilling tones, though there are an equal number who rhythmically speak the lyrics Rex Harrison style. In the former camp, Chris Dwan imbues young David with a warm voice, a rubbery face, and buckets of boyish charm. He is particularly well supported by the women in David’s orbit: Allie Trimm who brings just enough feistiness to the role of Wanda his loyal girlfriend, Alison Fraser whose sly style takes Mother beyond the passive aggressive stereotype, Dana Costello who provides the alluring Miss B with Carole Lombard’s wit and knowing flirtiness, and Farah Alvin resembling the best of Madeline Kahn in her portrayal of the sexually charged Angela. The men (Raji Ahsan, Ray DeMattis, Magnes Jarmo, Robert Picardo, and Joe Veale) are more two dimensional as if to bolster the concept that David is a leading man in the making. Theatrical treasure David Schramm rounds out the cast as the way over the top Marlowe.
Though short on plot, this return engagement of Enter Laughing is long on heart, smiles, and quality song styling. A lighthearted escape from these thornier times, the piece also incorporates a lovely message that each generation has something to teach the other. It plays through June 9 at Saint Peter’s Church, 54th Street just east of Lexington Avenue. Tickets are priced with accessibility in mind [$67.50 ((evenings), $72.50 (matinees), $25 (under 35 years of age), $20 (students and senior rush]. To purchase and for more information visit https://yorktheatre.org.