The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves has turned Neil Simon’s reflections on his early days as a TV comedy writer, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” into non-stop hilarity.
Paying homage to Sid Caesar’s groundbreaking NBC 90-minute comedy-variety series “Your Show of Shows” (1950-1954), considered one of the best TV shows of all-time, Simon wanted everyone to fall in love with this TV icon like he did.
Without a clear and concise storyline, the play follows a group of comedy writers as they work daily in showbiz. It’s set in 1953, and besides an insider’s look, it also reflects the political and social climate of that time.
Simon was a junior writer on the same staff as his brother Danny Simon, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Mel Tolkin, Tony Webster, Selma Diamond, Lucille Kallen and others. Larry Gelbart (“M*A*S*H”) and Woody Allen came later.
He has turned his co-workers into characters, and they sure are. Charismatic Danny Brown excels as the eccentric, larger-than-life Max Prince (based on Caesar), agile in physical comedy and over-the-top in personality.
Zach Murphy plays sarcastic and droll Milt, which is based on Sheldon Keller. At first, he seemed flat but quickly caught his stride and was cracking up the audience.
Although the entire ensemble was equally important, William Smith stood out as Ira, who is based on Mel Brooks. Smith played Ira as the co-worker you love to hate. Every time he was on stage, his crazy antics kept the audience laughing. At first, he seemed annoying and unnecessary, but enlivened the show quite a bit.
Director Tom Kopp expressed his admiration for Caesar and his co-stars Imogene Coca and Carl Reiner in the program. He enthusiastically embraced this comedy, and with assistant director Valleri Dillard, they created a warm affectionate look at the funny people who became the gold standard in comedy writing.
There would not be a “Saturday Night Live” had it not been for “Your Show of Shows.” Simon’s 23rd play tells us why they mattered and how much went into making us laugh.
Theatre Guild of Webster Groves took us back to a specific time, while Kopp presented a wacky funhouse of creativity and chaos. The show really took off after a slow start, but the cast found its rhythm quickly, and achieved what they set out to do.
TGWG presented “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” March 8-11 and March 15-18. For more information, visit www.theatreguildwg.org