When Enter Laughing: The Musical opened in fall 2008, the York Theatre Company struck gold in their excavation and refinement of a 1976 flop musical, So Long 174th Street. Using the title of the play by Joseph Stein and novel by Carl Reiner on which it is based, Enter Laughing was hailed by critics as a musical gem, prompting the New York Times critic to write, “All you can do is wonder, how did this thing fail so badly the first time around?”
Like the despised fruitcake that is passed from one generation to the next in Gary Apple’s hard-to-digest musical, Christmas in Hell, the show itself is an amalgam of strange ingredients. Sometimes sincere, usually madcap, but hardly ever having to do with Christmas, it is the tale of an 8-year-old boy mistakenly sent to Hades and the father who has to drink some Clamato to get him back. With one song that rhymes “Jesus” with “Chuck E. Cheese’s,” and another composed almost entirely of variations of the F-word, some in the audience may find the show in bad taste. With references to Charles Manson and Leona Helmsley, others may simply find it stale.
“Lonesome Blues,” a new musical at the York, is a historical dramatization of the life of Blind Lemon Jefferson through music. Jefferson was an itinerant Texas bluesman who was one of the first to be recorded by Paramount Records in the 1920s. He is said to have influenced everyone from Leadbelly to Bob Dylan to the Beatles. Jefferson went on to record 80 songs until his untimely death in his early 30s. He was found frozen near the river in Chicago. The blues, as does the play, tells the story of this rough life for African-Americans in America in the early 20th century. “Blues hits a nerve and that hurts” Jefferson declares.
Shakespeare is getting a Wild West twist this fall with Desperate Measures at the York Theatre Company. The new musical transports Measure for Measure to the American frontier in a high-energy adaptation by Peter Kellogg and David Friedman that charms and entertains.
Marry Harry revives a genre not much seen in these parts lately, the charm musical. The work of Jennifer Robbins (book), Dan Martin (music), and Michael Biello (lyrics), the show is small and hasn’t much on its mind, just the urge to put a few likable characters through a simple story and send its audience out with a collective feeling of “Aww.” Thanks to an attractive production on the intimate York Theatre stage and an overqualified cast, it gets its “Aww,” though it also earns a couple of orders of “You can’t be serious.”