They were serving dollops of the new Kolikof caviar along with bagels with-cream cheese-and-lox in the lobby of The Wallis at the opening of "ENTER LAUGHING: THE MUSICAL".... a wonderful musical entertainment which is set in the Bronx, New York in the Thirties. I lived in the Bronx, New York in the Thirties....and never, ever saw a dollop (or spoonful) of caviar, but did see lots of bagels with cream cheese-and-lox. (Lox is the saltier, less expensive version of Nova Scotia smoked salmon.) The show is based upon a 1963 semi-autobiographical novel by Carl Reiner which then became a successful Broadway play written by Joseph Stein (the same year he wrote the magnificent "Fiddler on the Roof"). The play starred a brilliant young Alan Arkin, who won the Tony Award for Best Male Performer. (And yes, years later I produced a comedy film called "Chu Chu & The Philly Flash" which co-starred Alan Arkin and Carol Burnett.) Carl Reiner made his feature film directing debut with his film version of the play in 1967. Enter Laughing went on to become (for a few performances - 16 - in 1976) a musical called "So Long 174th Street," but that effort closed quickly. (It featured a 44-year old Bobbie Morse as the 17 year old lead, quite as stretch.) A new version of the musical by Stuart Ross ("Forever Plaid") with clever lyrics by Stan Daniels opened in New York in 2008 and was quite successful, so much so that comic Jerry Seinfeld paid for an ad in the New York Times heralding the show, calling it "The funniest show I have ever seen in my life and I have never laughed so much." It was decided to give it its West Coast premiere here at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Bev Hills, 310-746-4000 ), the beautiful new theatre in the heart of Beverly Hills. It is being shown in the smaller Lovelace Studio theatre, which is perfectly sized for an intimate musical with its cast of ten talented performers....Robert Picardo as the father, Anne DeSalvo as his mother, Sara Niemietz as Wanda, the girlfriend, Joel Brooks as the boss of the machine shop, Amy Pietz as the diva leading lady Angela Marlowe, and Nick Ullett as the domineering, drinking lead actor, Harrison Marlowe. Jeff Skowron plays the silly friend Marvin.
I have known the 92-year old Carl Reiner for many, many years....back to the days of "Your Show of Shows," which he helped write and appeared in. Carl directed a movie called "Where's Poppa" in the late '60s, and it was shot partly in my spacious apartment on Central Park West. It starred George Segal, who lived just above me in the same building. I was there when he first teamed with Mel Brooks on "The 2,000 Year Old Man," since I publicized a musical called "All American" starring Ray Bolger which Mel wrote. (The beautiful song, "Once Upon a Time," came from it.) I asked Carl why he thinks Enter Laughing keeps resurfacing, and he said, "The thrust of the thing is this is a 17-year old kid, David Kolowitz, who dreams of being an actor, and that actor becomes Carl Reiner who becomes a writer/producer/director/novelist/autobiograph-ist. It's never easy to fulfill your dreams, but it takes stick-to it-ness. If you really feel you have to be what your calling is, you have to go through a lot of things to take you there. So if it best to ENTER LAUGHING, what is the best way to exit? Exit smiling, knowing you had a good life," so said Reiner.
Here at The Wallis, the 17-year old David Kolowitz is played by Noah Weisberg, in his late twenties I guess, superb as the errand boy who dreams of a life on the stage while his parents plan a pharmacist career for him. (When his mother hears about his involvement with the stage, she shrieks, "A night school for tramps.") David falls in with a raffish company of actors who give him a small part in their play (at first asking for a 'tuition charge' to do so.) There's a long-suffering girlfriend who ends up lending him ten dollars so he can rent a tuxedo for his role, and a boss in the machine shop where he works who good-naturedly tolerates him. A best friend, another girlfriend, an outrageous stage manager/lead actor, a female 'star' who takes a shine to David....all play fun roles in this hilarious musical comedy set in the heart of the Great Depression of the Thirties.. There's a funny cameo device at the end where each week during this run a well-known actor will play the small role of Harry Hamburger...my week was TV's Fred Willard. There is a three piece musical combo providing the bouncy music...Gerry Sternbach at the piano does herculean duty.
The cast confronting David.
Lyricist/composer Stan Daniels, whom I knew slightly, died in 2007; he had been an eight-time Emmy-winning writer and producer of "Taxi" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." There's a song in the show by him called "The Butler's Song" which brings down the house; it reveals David's daydreams. Carl calls it "One of the greatest comedy songs ever written." Ross told me that he has hopes to bring this version back to Broadway in the coming year. I go back to Noah, around whom the entire show revolves, He is, of course, meant to be terribly inept as an actor, which is half the fun of this musical. At his first audition as an actor, he is so green he reads the stage direction "enter laughing" as part of his dialogue. Talk about stage fright....there is a hilarious scene where he can't get any words out. We all know the feeling.
The songs are such fun - over-the-top madness. The actress Angela sings The Man I Can Love," while girl friend Wanda does "Men." His mother does justice to "My Son The Druggist," and "Your Mother's Heart." I loved "Hot Cha Cha" and yes, "The Butler's Song" is madness...David envisioning himself as a movie star with Harrison Marlow as his butler, excusing his absence on the phone to Greta Garbo since he is scr--wing Dolores Del Rio. Yes, it's fun stuff.
The show is only scheduled to run until March 1st, so I suggest you call (310-746-4000) , g oto www.thewallis.org.....or get to the boxoffice in person and see if you can garner a ticket or two. (No performance on Sunday, Feb. 22nd.) You may not enter the theatre laughing but I can promise you you will spend your evening doing so.
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