by Paul Recupero

Howie Brown and host Tony Braithwaite star in Act II Playhouse's holiday offering, LAUGHING ALL THE WAY. (Photo credit: Bill D'Agostino)

Start with “A Night Before Christmas”, stir in a heaping serving of “Kids Say the Darndest Things” and “Whose Line is It Anyway?”, and sprinkle on “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and you’ll have something that approaches Act II’s current comic endeavor, LAUGHING ALL THE WAY. This holiday-themed variety show romances bits of the above referenced programs with many others, and delivers laughs for the whole family.

At the helm is the innovative trio, Tony Braithwaite, Howie Brown and Will Dennis. In February’s “Heeere’s Tony!”, the three crafted a thoroughly entertaining stage adaptation of “The Tonight Show”. In LAUGHING ALL THE WAY, the artists again offer up their creative writing juices, which are matched only by their hilariously sharp performances.

As with “Heeere’s Tony!”, Braithwaite serves as an endearing host, winning over the audience immediately with song, jokes and impressions. Brown and Dennis lend solid comedic support, and the three faultlessly interact as they move fluidly from one bit to the next. Piano accompaniment, when needed, is aptly provided by Sonny Leo, who also gets a writing credit.

The best segment comes in the form of improvisational comedy as the performers adapt the plot of “It’s a Wonderful Life” to the life of a random audience member, with uproarious results. In this vein, I would have preferred more improvisation and less scripted humor throughout, although I did enjoy the return of “Carnac the Magnificent” as well as Dennis’s character “Murray”, Santa’s somewhat apathetic elf from the Bronx. Also, during each performance a different preselected child reads aloud his or her letter to Santa—a great touch.

With its evening start time of 7:00 pm and a length of barely an hour, LAUGHING ALL THE WAY clearly is targeted at kids, but there are enough side jokes and current event jabs to keep adults well-engaged. Act II remains the place to be to experience some of the Philadelphia area’s strongest comedic talent.

Hosted by Tony Braithwaite
Written by Tony Braithwaite, Howie Brown, Will Dennis and Sonny Leo
December 13 – 31, 2011
Act II Playhouse
56 E. Butler Avenue
Ambler, PA 19002
(215) 654-0200

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