On May 15th, in the midst of Chinese trade wars and the death of one of America’s favorite comedians, Tim Conway, “Un-Block The Music” had the pleasure of going to the theater to experience the lighter side of life with Stuart Ross’ “Enter Laughing.”
Of course, I have written about the York Theatre and its attention to bringing back musical theater shows that may not have made much of a splash initially, but that deserve a second chance. This particular production of “Enter Laughing” opened in May as a limited run and has already been extended twice.
Of course, it’s funny. It’s based on a novel by Carl Reiner, who by the way, I hear is in his late 90s and still working! Anyway, this is the story of a Jewish boy from the Bronx trying to break into theater. Spoiler alert: he is terrible! Another spoiler alert: Chris Dwan plays the actor and he is, in fact, amazing.
In 2007, York was presenting four stripped down musicals for its Mufti Series and was looking for a director for “Enter Laughing”. The show had been a book, a play and a movie, which is pretty much exactly like the book. Stuart loved the movie. “It was the first time I ever laughed at the movies. I didn’t laugh at things like ‘It’s A Mad Mad Mad World,’” he jokingly told “Un-Block The Music.” All incarnations of the book were successful until the name was changed to “So Long 174th St.” and it opened on Broadway as a musical. It flopped.
Stuart had the opportunity at York to read the musical theater script. He thought, “‘this is pretty good.’ I met the play’s book writer, Joe Stein, and we had a great time.” Stuart immediately felt the great elements of the play needed to be put back into the musical. It was something Stuart and Joe totally agreed on. “I asked to see what else was written by the composer, Stan Daniels. We found a couple of new songs that were never tried that were wonderful.” Joe let Stuart add and rewrite parts, and they ended up reverting back to the work’s original name, “Enter Laughing.” The musical was presented at the York in 2008. The show was later performed at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater in 2011 where it sold out the entire run. From there, it went to Wallis Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts in Los Angeles. Now, it is back at the York, playing its extended run through June 23. Tickets are available here: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1002089
As a graduate of Circle In The Square Theater School (I swear they don’t pay me to promote the school, literally their alumni are scattered all over the theater industry), you know that Stuart could never be just a one trick pony. If “Enter Laughing” doesn’t ring a bell with you, “Forever Plaid,” is Stuart’s other well-known show. The great news is that the Virginia Repertory Theatre is presenting “Forever Plaid” beginning July 19, 2019, at the Hanover Tavern. Do you love the 1960’s? The show starts with a car crash and the death of The Plaids, a boy band at the height of their career. The collision, however, was with a bus full of Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see The Beatles debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The revue begins with the Plaids returning from the afterlife for one final chance at musical glory. (Does this feel like “American Graffiti?” Anyone thinking the song “Teen Angel?” And, or “Grease’s” Teen Angel? They loved angels back then. “Un-Block The Music” is certainly not opposed.) “Teen Angel” is not included in the show, but other favorites are such as : “Three Coins In The Fountain,” “Sixteen Tons,” and “Cry.”
If you are in the neighborhood, tickets are available at: https://va-rep.org/_forever-plaid-hanover-tavern.html
When we spoke, Stuart said he was off to Los Angeles to do a little relaxing and would likely see the amazing Carl Reiner, but was also just about ready to start the musical theater process on ” Secret Life Of The American Musical” by Jack Vierte, a book he just adapted….So hold the line!