Tag Archive | "Enter Laughing"

Keep Laughing

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Enter Laughing sm

By Courtney M. Holbrook

There are certain stereotypes about would-be actors that never seem to go away. For instance, they want to be famous — even if they don’t want to memorize their lines. They want to be loved — even if they’re working for the saddest production in small-town America. And, of course, they want to be seen as artists, receiving the respect owed to an “actoooor” of their stature. Because that’s how it should be spoken — emphasis on the “or.”

In “Enter Laughing: the Musical,” the word “actor” is bandied about as though it were the name of Jesus himself. Never has the “or” at the end of a word been elongated so well. For these characters, being an actor is a Christ-like occupation — even if they don’t really know what it entails.

“Enter Laughing,” which runs at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor until September 4, is the Depression-era story of David, a young man from the Bronx who decides he wants to be an actor. No, he hasn’t been inspired by Sophocles or Shakespeare — though he has a vague idea of what the latter may have written — David is inspired by a youthful libido and a knowledge that, should he become famous, girls will probably sleep with him.

However, there are set backs to David’s pursuit of stardom on Broadway. His parents want him to be a pharmacist. His boss, Mr. Foreman, wants him to wake up to the harsh realities of life. The play for which he auditions — “Fate is a Strange Mistress” — is not exactly ready for Broadway. And then, of course, there’s the tiny detail that David knows nothing about acting.

Although the story is familiar — coming of age meets theatrical in-jokes — the steady script, fetching song-and-dance routines and, most importantly, the impressive cast make for an evening that can only be described as delightful.

Based on the 1958 semi-autobiographical novel by Carl Reiner, “Enter Laughing” works well thanks to its understanding of the ridiculous — both in young men and the acting world. David is constantly desperate for girls — he can’t stop “undressing them” with his eyes. Moments such as David’s first audition — where he doesn’t realize one shouldn’t read cue lines — and first time on-stage — when stage fright takes hold with dizzying results — are captured with over-the-top hilarity.

The audience clearly appreciated these humorous ventures. But what made them so funny was not just the script or music — it was the cast. Many of the cast members were featured in the show’s original production Off-Broadway at the York Theatre. It’s a treat to watch them return.

David, played by Josh Grisetti, is a wonder of awkward horniness and eager youth. The way Grisetti puckers his lips like a drowning fish at the sight of girls, an audience and his mother was enough to bring tears to my eyes. It’s no wonder he won the Drama Desk Award for his performance at the York Theatre.

From the beginning, Richard Kind, playing Marlowe, the director and owner of the theatre where David auditions, was an audience favorite. Kind’s well-known past in comedy earned him several rounds of applause. Yet, Kind genuinely earns every one of those fits of clapping. In his hands, Marlowe moves through jokes as quickly as he moves through bottles of alcohol — sipped through a straw, if you please.

The diva role belongs to Kate Shindle, who plays Angela. Angela seems unaware that she isn’t actually on Broadway. Though her lines are funny, Shindle’s strength lies in physical humor; flailing her body from side to side, and swishing her hips, her every movement is like a lizard that doesn’t realize it’s dying.

Each character remains unique and funny in their moments. Ray DeMattis, as Mr. Foreman, and Michael Tucker, as David’s dad, dance a duet to “the kids a’ today” as though they were half their age. In less capable hands, the role of David’s mother could have been taken to pure stereotype — Jill Eikenberry keeps her from falling into the standard “Jewish mother” role with sweet aplomb.

And let’s not forget the stage manager, Pike, played by Erick Devine, whose “humphs” — so perfectly timed — generate some of the largest laughs in the show. With only a few lines, Devine makes Pike a memorable bit of grumpy joy. Emily Shoolin, as Wanda, plays up the standard ingénue role. This girl is sweet and ever so slightly dumb, but no one is going to take her David away. Eric Mann, as David’s lapdog best friend, Marvin, seems unaware that David’s success has yet to happen — Marvin’s already dreaming about the Hollywood life he can live alongside David.

Aside from the actors, David Toser deserves praise for his deceptively simple costume design. An Elvis Presley wig and an oversized suit set the tone for one of the most hilarious scenes. The carefully designed outfits for Angela and Wanda make one seem ridiculous, and the other the perfect 1930s girlfriend.

And after what seems like an interminable amount of musicals designed around the “American Idol” belting and screaming style of singing, it’s refreshing to hear actors use correct diction and tone. These actors don’t belt when they don’t need to. They don’t show off — they sing with precision. There’s no need for crazy high notes — a good ear can tell these actors know what they’re doing.

With music and lyrics by Stan Daniels, the score brings to mind the simple refrains of musicals past — with dirtier lyrics. This isn’t another “rock opera” — and thank goodness for that.

Let’s hope “Enter Laughing” follows a more successful route to Broadway than David. If this audience pleaser — and old-fashioned piece of entertainment — keeps up the good work, its Broadway aspirations won’t amount to blind stargazing.

Laughing His Way On Stage

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Carl Reiner’s story of an artist becoming an actor-and vice versa.

By Courtney M. Holbrook

A lot of people want to be stars. They want to see their name in lights and their picture on the cover of Vanity Fair. But what about the people who want to become artists?

“Enter Laughing: the Musical,” is the story of David, a young man from the Bronx during the Depression who wants to be a star. After auditioning for a play, he realizes that he, in fact, wants to be an artist.

Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor presents “Enter Laughing: the Musical” from August 9 to September 4, with preview performances August 9 to 12. Directed by Stuart Ross, the show originally ran Off-Broadway at the York Theatre, to positive reviews. Now, the company has returned, with a few cast changes, and is ready for an East End audience.

“The York stage was tiny, and the Bay Street Theatre proscenium stage allows us to do different things with physical comedy,” said Erick Devine, who plays the stage manager, Pike. “The script is still there, but we’re able to keep things interesting.”

With a book by Joseph Stein, the writer for “Fiddler On The Roof,” the cast has a lot of help in keeping things interesting. Carl Reiner, the screenwriter of “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Twelve” and “Thirteen,” wrote the semi-autobiographical novel which inspired the musical and a movie in the ‘60s.

Much of the joy of “Enter Laughing” comes from its coming-of-age story. At first glance, the show can seem “like a vehicle for one actor, but it’s the entire cast — the way my character interacts with everyone — that makes this show come alive,” said Josh Grisetti, who plays David.

David’s journey from gawky — and horny — would-be star to artist is a relatable one. Beyond the terrors of the audition process, “Enter Laughing” is the story of trying to be an actor — and all the insanity that comes with it.

“I think anyone can relate to David,” Grisetti said. “As actors, we remember those beginning thoughts about why we wanted to go into this business in the first place.”

What can appear clichéd becomes bitingly real with the 14-member supporting cast, which fleshes out David’s story. David’s father and mother, played by Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker of “L.A. Law,” would rather he be a pharmacist. David’s best friend, Marvin, played by Eric Mann, wants a part of David’s possible celebrity. And while David toils at his job at a machine shop, his boss, Mr. Forman, played by Ray DeMattis, serves as the “dose of reality about life,” according to DeMattis.

“When you’re an actor, you get used to people just assuming you’re dabbling in the business,” Devine said. “When you tell people you’re an actor, they tell you about how they did a play in high school. A lot of people — parents, friends — don’t see it as a legitimate profession.”

But the struggle to make acting an art does not just occur in the arguments between parents and children. There are also the struggles between actors and other actors, directors and stage managers. Much of these internal battles are displayed in David’s interactions with Angela, played by Kate Shindle, and Harrison Marlowe, played by Richard Kind of “The Producers” and “Spin City.” Marlowe is David’s acting teacher and the director of his first play, “The Strange Fate of the Mattress.” Angela is the “star” of the show, and cannot figure out why she hasn’t ascended the Broadway stage.

“Angela thinks she’s Greta Garbo,” said Shindle. “She thinks she’s the ultimate stage actress, but she’s really not.”

Angela is the classic theatre presence — the stage diva; Shindle noted that finding the artist beneath the cliché kept the character interesting. Despite Angela’s over-the-top attitude, she does “care about her art. The best part of this role was finding these layers in her through her interactions with David. She’s more than a cartoon.”

Shindle was one of the new additions to the cast. Adjusting to a show where many of the actors had already performed together was “wildly intimidating.” But thanks to the “supportive cast,” Shindle had “no time to be neurotic. I just had to jump right in.”

Despite the seemingly serious subject matter of artistic passion, the show’s strongest link to audience pull is simple — it’s funny. DeMattis said after years of comedy performances, he had yet to see as strong an audience reaction as they received in “Enter Laughing.”

“People just don’t stop laughing,” DeMattis said. “And that’s because of the script and the director, Stuart Ross. It’s unbelievable, but thanks to Reiner’s book, our job as actors was so much easier. We’ve got the script — Ross added this fantastic physical comedy.”

When the final show within the show begins, “Enter Laughing” has gone into full-blown farce. Gerry McIntyre, who plays many characters in the musical, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Don Darwin, noted that the “intensely fast-paced nature of the comedy just keeps you tuned in.”

Many in the cast noted Grisetti’s performance as the center of the show. For Grisetti, comedy has always been his theatrical choice.

“Even when I try to work in drama, everyone thinks I’m adding comic undertones,” Grisetti said. “That’s just the way my mind and body communicates.”

And in keeping with the over-the-top humor of “Enter Laughing,” Grisetti worried about audience reaction in the East End. After all, “families will love it,” he said. “But I’m really not attractive enough to bring in the artistic, young gay crowd that lives out here. So, I’m hoping for families.”

When “Enter Laughing: the Musical” holds its opening night on Saturday, the cast hopes they will laugh and enjoy the show. But, perhaps they’ll see something they can identify with — the story of growing up and finding the passion in a career.

“People come to theatre to be engaged, not just to laugh at mugging and stupid stuff,” Shindle said. “And with “Enter Laughing,” they’ll be engaged, they’ll care about these characters. But they’ll laugh while that’s happening.”