Theater Review: “Laughter On The 23rd Floor”

Omri Schein & Amanda Sitton Back - Louis Lotorto & Phil Johnsom
Photo credit:
North Coast Repertory Theatre

For four years, Sid Caesar’s 90-minute comedy variety show “Your Show of Shows” made TV history by incorporating sitcom elements such as the recurring “Hickenloopers” into the scripts.

But all good things come to an end, and in 1954, with slipping ratings, NBC decided to break up the Sid Caesar/ Imogene Coca team and sign each to their own show.

In its time, “Your Show of Shows” had a stable of some ten writers; one of the last hired was playwright Neil Simon. Simon’s 1993 “Laughter On The 23rd Floor” is an affectionate look back at the writers of that series (“Your Show of Shows” was ranked #37 on the “TV Guide” list of the Best Series of All Time in 2013).

Simon’s alter ego is Lucas Brickman (Brett Alters), a fresh-faced young whippersnapper just trying to get past his tryout as a series writer.

He serves as both narrator and participant for the writers’ meetings that took place each day on the 23rd floor of a Manhattan building to write new material for the fictional Max Prince aka Sid Caesar (David Ellenstein) show. 

The actual group included Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Mel Tolkin, Tony Webster, Sheldon Keller, Lucille Kallen and Selma Diamond.

Here we have seven writers, mostly European Jews, but also including the Irishman Brian (Christopher M. Williams), always about to go off and make it big in Hollywood; the transplanted Russian Val Slotsky (Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, with a hilarious accent); Carol (Amanda Sitton), who wants to be known as a writer, not as a woman writer, and Milt (Louis Lotorto), given to outrageously wild clothing choices including a blindingly all-white ensemble in the second act that provokes this comment: “You look like a Nazi trying to catch a boat to Argentina.”

Then there’s Omri Shein, hilarious as professional hypochondriac Ira Stone (standing in for Mel Brooks), always unable to breathe or sure he’s having a heart attack or stroke ... and always late to the writing table.

And Kenny (Phil Johnson), the first to pass on the bad news about the show.

Meanwhile Max (Ellenstein) – who has a penchant for punching holes in walls – has made two more holes for the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

He storms around in shirt, tie and underwear, cigar in mouth, threatening his writers to be funny or else while cutting a pretty hilarious figure himself.

Costume designer Elisa Benzoni created the period costumes and set designer Marty Burnett came up with yet another terrific set. Melanie Chen’s sound design and Matt Novotny’s lighting design also make solid contributions.

“Laughter On The 23rd Floor” may not be profound writing, however it brings back good memories.

But it’s better than that: it’s just plain funny.

As Kenny puts it, “Maybe we’ll never have this much fun again in our entire lives.”

The details

“Laughter On The 23rd Floor” plays through November 20, 2016 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (858) 481-1055 or northcoastrep.org