Enter Laughing, The Musical!
Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry, round out a brilliant cast in Enter Laughing, The Musical
*A review by Aileen Jacobson of the New York Times*
In a play loaded with clever words, the funniest scene is one about not being able to get any out. That’s largely because Josh Grisetti, the appealing young star of “Enter Laughing, the Musical,” mimes stage fright so expertly that his struggle becomes as comical as a well-crafted line….Ms. Eikenberry is wonderfully droll in her two big songs, “My Son, the Druggist” and “Your Mother’s Heart”, and Mr. Tucker gets his star musical turn in “Hot Cha Cha,” a duet with Ray DeMattis as David’s employer at a machine repair shop. A lively trio led by the pianist-music director Phil Reno provides all the accompaniment that is needed.
Credit for the show’s many belly laughs must also go to Stuart Ross, the director who rescued this failed 1976 musical three years ago with his deft staging at the York Theater Company Off Broadway. Now he is working his magic again at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, in preparation for a planned move to Broadway.
If that happens, Mr. Grisetti, who is clearly a major talent, will finally get the Broadway debut denied him two years ago. A revival of Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound,” in which he was to star, was canceled before it opened because of poor ticket sales for another Simon play, “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” with which it was to run in repertory and which also got the hook.
Here, as he would have in “Broadway Bound,” Mr. Grisetti portrays a young man trying to break into show business. “Enter Laughing” is based on a semiautobiographical novel by Carl Reiner that was adapted (first as a hit play, then a screenplay, then the musical originally called “So Long, 174th Street”) by Joseph Stein. Mr. Simon, Mr. Reiner and Mr. Stein (best known for “Fiddler on the Roof”) all became writers in the 1950s for that fertile comedy breeding ground, “Your Show of Shows.”
Mr. Reiner is a producer of this production, and Mr. Stein, before he died last year at age 98, helped to resuscitate the musical. Mr. Grisetti, who is in his 20s, conveys a perfect mix of goofiness and bravado in his role as the aspiring actor David Kolowitz. He is given able assistance by a strong supporting cast. The married couple Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker, who played a couple on “L.A. Law,” here are David’s parents, who want their son to become a pharmacist.
Richard Kind seems born to the role of Harrison Marlowe, a thespian who runs a seedy theater and acting school. He gets what may be the most hilarious of the witty songs by Stan Daniels, who wrote the show’s music and lyrics. It’s a naughty ditty called “The Butler’s Song,” in a sequence in which David imagines that he has become a desirable Hollywood star.
As it is, David is an amazingly successful Lothario, with three women in his orbit: the theater owner’s lusty daughter (Kate Shindle), a sexy hat store clerk (Gina Milo) and his loyal but exasperated girlfriend, Wanda (Emily Shoolin). Wanda leads a chorus of women in a bluesy song, “Men,” set in an ice cream parlor, in which linked napkins pulled from a metal container become feathery boas.
It’s one of the many inventive bits tossed in regularly by Mr. Ross; the costume designer, David Toser; the set designer, James Morgan; and the rest of the creative team. Even the scene changes are choreographed humorously.
Let’s hope that a Broadway stage doesn’t gobble up the musical’s intimate allure. The only alteration it needs now is some tightening up. At two and a half hours, it feels long for a spoof. I can’t think of a single double take or delicious lyric I’d want to see trimmed, however.