By Patrick Hurley
It’s the old story: A starry-eyed young man dreams of making it big as an actor, and circumstances seem to always be just right for making that happen. Such is the story behind Enter Laughing the Musical, which is playing now at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.
David Kolowitz (Noah Weisberg) is the lovelorn hero of this particular incarnation. He’s kind of a hopeless shlub. Of course he is. David lives a regimented life. Of course he does. He has a steady girlfriend Wanda (Sara Niemietz), two loving parents Morris (Robert Picardo) and Emma (Anne DeSalvo), who are trying to persuade David to go to Pharmacy school to become a druggist–note the foreshadowing conflict. David also works in a machine shop with owner Mr. Forman (Joel Brooks). Everything soon goes haywire when David discovers the theater and decides to pursue acting, despite the fact that he is naturally terrible at it.
His first audition at Marlowe Theater, with famous actor Harrison Marlowe (Nick Ullett) and Harrison’s overly amorous daughter Angela (Amy Pietz) is a colossal disaster. But lucky for David, he has caught Angela’s eye, and she makes her father cast him. What follows is nearly two hours of how it almost all goes wrong. Oh yeah, and it’s set to music.
Despite the good intentions of the cast and crew, this production cannot really overcome the dated material. Originally written as a novel by Comedy Icon Carl Reiner in 1959, the musical aims to be a satire of something, theater or fame perhaps. But what happens when a satire become the thing it’s satirizing?
This is not to say that the production doesn’t have anything to recommend it. On the contrary, it’s actually quite amusing at times. It’s overflowing with musical numbers, some of which do nothing to advance the actual story, but are more likely present because of a punchline or two. But some of the songs were highlights of the evening. Angela’s lament in Act One “The Man I Can Love,” for instance was amusing, but it also was a true moment where the music was necessary because she needed the outlet to reveal part of her character. In other words, it wouldn’t have worked as spoken dialogue. This cannot be said for all the musical numbers. David and Wanda’s phone duet, “It’s Like” was another good example of a moment when a song was necessary, and it was kind of sweet too.
As much as the audience laughed at it, “The Butler’s Song” in Act Two felt obligatory and as nothing more than a space filler. It was a fantasy sequence, but only served as a joke. It’s difficult to get behind numbers like that. It’s also difficult to invest in David’s journey simply because of the implausibility of it. He’s a terrible actor, he bombs on stage when he finally performs—the play-within-the-play is the highlight of this production—yet, his family and friends congratulate him and tell him to pursue this thing he’s clearly awful at. Even as a silly comedy, it’s a stretch.
Noah Weisberg, as David, squeezes every drop of humor he can get out of the role, and he is likeable enough to pull it off. His physical humor is spot-on, and he raises the bar on this production. As does Amy Pietz, who sinks her teeth into the role of the sex-starved, melodramatic Angela. She and Mr. Weisberg maybe playing it for laughs, but they make it work.
Director Stuart Ross does a fine job utilizing the space, getting the most from his actors, and making the musical numbers work as well as they can. And the result is a mixed bag. It’s a cute, fun show. An evening’s diversion that perhaps runs a tad too long, but will keep most audiences at least chuckling throughout. It wants to be a carefree throwback to the good old days. In the current world of theater, however, this play feels more like a relic than a throwback. It is a satire of an era, but it plays out as if that era were close to ours, and it’s just not anymore. This is the trouble with such dated material. Do we really need another musical number about what jerks men are, or how today’s youth just don’t respect anything anymore? There’s something so familiar about it that the audience will always be one step ahead of it, and that ultimately may have us chuckling, but it leaves us a little too unsatisfied.
Enter Laughing – The Musical
Venue: Lovelace Studio Theater
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Performance February 8 to March 1 – Opening Night Wednesday, February 11
Previews Sunday February 8 at 2:30pm; Tuesday, February 10 at 8:30 pm
Regular performance schedule:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday Evenings at 8:30 pm
Saturdays at 3:30 pm and 8:30 pm; Sundays at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm
Note: no performances on Sunday, February 22
Tickets: Prices: $30.00-$50.00
In Person – Wallis Annenberg Center Box Office,
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
By Phone – 310-746-4000
Online – www.thewallis.org