When farce works (rarely), it relies on brilliant, very particular embodiments of broad types. In this irresistible revival directed by Stuart Ross, Chris Dwan plays a kind of male ingénue: starry-eyed David Kolowitz (a stand-in for author Carl Reiner, whose 1958 novel inspired Stan Daniels’ clever lyrics and music). Currently employed as a machine-shop errand boy in Washington Heights, circa 1938, David has grandiose dreams of conquering stage and screen. Never mind that he hasn’t the slightest clue as to what the acting profession entails.
Happening upon a scammy contest for the “Marlowe Free Theatre and School for Dramatic Art” (here headed by a hammy David Schramm), the kid ascends the ranks in a matter of days – thanks largely to a lack of contenders, plus the intercessions of Marlowe’s daughter Angela, whom Farrah Alvin portrays as the most unthreatening vamp imaginable. A living cameo, Angela is much too busy practicing her moues to pose much of a threat to David’s steady girlfriend, tongue-tied Wanda (Allie Trimm, possessed of a kewpie-doll face and amazing pipes) – although of course a crisis impends. Meanwhile, we get to revel in Angela’s hilarious cri de coeur, “The Man I Can Love” (which ought to be in everyone’s audition book, regardless of gender).
Fussing around the edges as David’s mother, Alison Fraser delivers on the ultimate maternal guilt-tripping anthem, “If You Want to Break Your Mother’s Heart.”
With this kind of competition, will “Chris Dwan, the Actor” – to borrow a title from David Kolowitz’s opening number – prevail? He triumphs! As delivered by Chris, David’s opening-night panic attack is sure to reduce even the humor-impaired to a bout of hopeless hysterics.