Enter Laughing: The Musical is an honest-to-God musical comedy, more about the humor than about the music. First staged in 1974 under the title So Long, 174th Street, it’s also a jokey forebear of The Drowsy Chaperone, [title of show], and the many other shows that use the theater to make jokes about theater. Here, young David Kolowitz (Josh Grisetti) is dying to get out of Washington Heights and onto the stage, circa 1938. In its best scenes, the show toys affectionately with his preoccupations: feeling up girls, putting up with his Jewish mother’s guilt trips, and longing for movie-star fame. It also looks affectionately at middle-class New York Jewish life in those days, even squeezing a big laugh out of a reference to Burnside Avenue. (Granted, most of the audience when I was there were young adults in 1938.)
But once you get away from the couple of genuinely funny songs, the show’s pretty thin and glib. It’s all the more dispiriting because there’s not a bad actor onstage here. The York Theatre Company at St. Peter’s has brought in George Irving, who co-starred in the original 1974 production, to reprise his charming role as an impossibly pompous actor. (His hilarious “The Butler’s Song” is clearly something he’s been refining for 35 years.) Grisetti’s role is mostly punch lines, which he hits hard, and when his character actually has to act for the first time, he milks everything he can from a sweetly funny moment of cringe comedy. If only the jokes were enough.