When was the last time you were able to park your troubles outside and enjoy innocence on stage? The craft able to sustain a show like this where ham contributes instead of diminishing is rare. Story and characters are cliche, but captivating, and cozy as a home-cooked meal. Direction sparkles. The production is a welcome tonic. By all rights, you should one day be able to brag you saw actor Chris Dwan early on, before he was recognized a star.
It’s 1938. Young David Kolowitz (Chris Dwan), a fresh faced youngster wearing his high school jacket over a shirt and tie, works stopgap in a machine shop for kind, irascible Mr. Foreman (Ray DeMattis). Parents (Alison Fraser and Robert Picardo) plan for him to become a druggist. (Mom longs for bragging rights.) David fantasizes life as an actor.
Delivering a package to a rundown theater, he preens, dances, sings, and does impressions on the empty stage. Even John Barrymore and the Pope are impressed. You’ll fall in love. Dwan reminds one of prime Dick Van Dyke. David knows his parents would kill him.
A charmingly staged phone call with more savvy girlfriend Wanda (Allie Trimm) finds her finishing his stumbling, amorous sentences. David overflows with post adolescent testosterone, also harboring a crush on milliner Miss B. (Dana Costello). So will you. (One wishes, however, that female thespians didn’t look older than our hero.)
Best buddy Marvin (Joe Veale) shows up with a newspaper clipping about auditions for scholarships to an acting school. How can David resist? Larger than life, Actor/Director Mr. Marlowe – think Sebastian Cabot (David Schramm) – his daughter, Angela (Farah Alvin), and assistant, Pike (Raji Ahsan), run the academy on a shoestring to conscript amateurs for the no pay productions.
Lusty Angela sets her cap for David who’s offered the leading man role. He only has to pay $5.00 a week, plus $10.00 for a second hand tuxedo costume. (A lot of money back then.)
Rehearsals are comic disaster. Dwan has a rubber face and limbs and the timing of a seasoned farceur. Parroting is a riot. Knowing he’s terrible, David imagines killing himself so everyone will praise what might have been. Company mourning is droll and creatively staged.
Angela makes the first of several moves on David showing her stripes (as if they weren’t obvious) singing from atop the piano. The boy’s expression recalls that of Roger Rabbit picturing sex with Jessica. Stars in his eyes, he lies about leaving work early and arriving home late. There are complications with his parents, the ladies, and opening night performance – virtuoso comedy. A surprise cameo further buoys proceedings.
Allie Trimm (Wanda) and Dana Costello (Miss B.) arrive triple threats, they sing, dance, and act well. Both are attractive. Trimm’s vivacity is appealingly warm. Alison Fraser (mom) depends a bit too much on a manufactured voice. “If You Want to Break Your Mother’s Heart” could be more humorous. Farah Alvin (Angela) has a fine, confident alto. Her style is somewhat less nimble than fellow players, but she has a grand turn getting entangled with David in her pearls.
Ray DeMattis (Mr. Foreman) and Robert Picardo (Dad) are skilled war horses, low key and entertaining. Their “Hot Cha Cha” number in the vein of Cole Porter’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” is a treat. David Schramm’s moment is an adroit rendition of “The Butler’s Song” during which the famous David is too busy “screwing Dolores Del Rio” to take a call from Greta Garbo: Ruby Keeler has been waiting a month now/Joan Crawford for over a year…
Watching Chris Dwan’s reactions is a constant pleasure. The talented artist is not inexperienced, but this level of versatile aptitude in one so young is exceptional. The performer effortlessly and joyously commands a stage.
Stuart Ross’ Direction/Musical Staging is inspired. With few exceptions, characters are whole. Timing, perhaps the Mt. Kilimanjaro here, is marvelous. Deftly integrated musical numbers flow. Company participation in the background or from side wings add chuckles. Even moving furniture is dancey. Ross has an eye for light-touch sight gags that feels like finding toys at the bottom of Crackerjacks.
After an exhausting Broadway season, Choreography by Jennifer Paulson-Lee feels specific and fresh.
Costumes (Tyler M. Holland) are not just period and character appropriate, but interesting in texture and style, aesthetically sharing the stage. Wigs and Make-Up are first rate across the board. (Kenneth Griffin.)
Scenic Designer James Morgan’s masks above the proscenium both signify comedy. An artful montage of 1930’s New York works well as atmosphere. Brooke van Hensbergen’s unexpected props are a hoot.
Phil Reno-piano, Perry Cavari-drums, and Michael Kuennen-bass comprise the accomplished band. Arrangements are swell.
Neither 1963’s Enter Laughing nor 1976’s So Long 174th Street (the musical) fared well on Broadway, though Alan Arkin won a Tony for his turn in the former. Go figure.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Robert Picardo, Chris Dwan, Alison Fraser and The Company
The York Theatre Company presents its 50th Anniversary Show
Book – Joseph Stein
Music and Lyrics – Stan Daniels
Additional Material by Stuart Ross
Based on the play by Joseph Stein from the novel by Carl Reiner
Music Direction – Phil Reno
Choreography – Jennifer Paulson-Lee