After a successful run in the fall, the York Theatre Company's staging of Enter Laughing: The Musical has returned for another engagement of screwball slapstick. This property has gone through many phases, from Carl Reiner's semiautobiographical novel to a hit stage version by Joseph Stein, a movie (by Reiner and Stein), and the subsequent musical version So Long, 174th Street. The edition on display is a reworking of the last-named production, which only ran for 16 performances on Broadway in 1976. That show's flop status has been blamed on the casting of goyish and mature Robert Morse in the lead role of David Kolowitz, a stage-struck Jewish juvenile. As Morse was 45 at the time, the story was told in flashback format, and the actor had to convince the audience he had dropped 25 years.
In the York production, an age-appropriate Josh Grisetti captures the awkwardness of youth and the excitement of discovering a passion. Stuart Ross stages the madness with invention and speed -- this is especially impressive given the small size of the Theatre at St. Peter's playing space. But the songs by Stan Daniels are too often repetitive dream sequences from David's adolescent imagination or one-joke punch lines reiterating points that have already been made in Stein's book. The main pleasures are derived from Ross' loony pacing and Grisetti's limning of the inept David's attempts at acting. It's takes a good actor to play a bad one. The climactic performance of the young man's theatrical debut in a piece of melodramatic trash brings the house down, figuratively and literally.
For this second engagement there have been more alterations. A song has been dropped from the first act, and two major roles were recast. Bob Dishy steps in for George S. Irving as Harrison Marlowe, the shabbily grandiose manager of a third-rate theatre company (Irving created the role in '76). While Dishy handles the comic business with expert timing -- watch as he pulls a hidden liquor flask out of the scenery at exactly the right moment -- his singing voice is thin, and he misses the mark on Marlowe's solo. Marla Schaffel, who replaces Janine LaManna as Angela, Marlowe's daughter and leading lady, is a riot as she seeks to seduce David while maintaining a front of false sophistication.
Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry combine sweetness and salt as David's loving but domineering parents. Emily Shoolin is effective as David's steadfast girlfriend Wanda, particularly in a mock bluesy number in which she enumerates the flaws of her childhood beaus while sipping a chocolate milkshake. The three-man orchestra gives lively accompaniment to Daniels' score. Despite the weakness of the songs, this is a mostly enjoyable show, deftly staged, with on-target performances.
Presented by the York Theatre Company
at the Theatre at Saint Peter's, 619 Lexington Ave., NYC. Jan. 29–March 20. Mon., Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 3 p.m.
(212) 935-5820 or www.yorktheatre.org.
Casting by Geoff Josselson