Saturday, October 4, 2014

You Can't Take It With You at the Longacre Theatre

Pulitzer Prize winner.
War horse.
Best Picture Academy Award winning film adaptation.
Staple of high school and community theater.

If this was a question on Jeopardy! the answer is - You Can't Take It With You.

Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's madcap family comedy makes a very welcome return to Broadway this season. Yes, the play is as old as the hills. Yes, some of the jokes are married to the original 1930's time period. Yes, any number of theatergoers are probably thinking, I did this show in high school, why, oh, why is it on Broadway in 2014?

The answer to that question lies in the hands of director Scott Ellis who has assembled a cast that does not contain a weak link. Is the scenario of the normal member of a wacky family dreading bringing her fiancee's straight laced folks to dinner done to death?  Of course it is. What many don't realize is that You Can't Take It With You was one of the first, if not the first play to use that scenario. Mr. Ellis has given his ensemble such great direction that the zany aspects only compliment the true message of Hart and Kaufman's play. This is a family that at the end of the day loves each other, respects each other and above all encourages everyone, no matter their talents, or lack thereof, to pursue happiness. To paraphrase Linus van Pelt, that's what You Can't Take It With You is all about, Charlie Brown.

For the few who don't know the story, Martin Vanderhof, grandfather and patriarch of his family, one day decided to quit his job and pursue whatever struck his fancy. The rest of his family has followed his lead. Daughter Penelope Sycamore, writes plays because one day a typewriter was mistakenly delivered to the house. Her husband, Paul makes fireworks in the basement. Daughter Essie has taken ballet lessons for eight years from Boris Kolenkhov, a Russian emigre. Essie's husband Ed plays the xylophone and prints phrases from whatever book or manifesto inspires him. The household help just kind of showed up one day and stayed. The only normal member of the family Alice works on Wall Street and has recently fallen for her boss, Tony Kirby.  It is their engagement that leads to the main conflict as the Kirby family is invited to dinner with Alice's strict instructions that, for once, everyone behave like how she thinks normal people should behave. Needless to say hijinks ensue.

Enveloped in the marvelous home designed by David Rockwell and with beautiful period costumes by Jane Greenwood, every member of the cast shines. Leading off is James Earl Jones as Grandpa Vanderhof, simply bemused by life and his family, yet grounded in love and his faith.  Kristine Nielsen brings her usual comic flair as momma Penelope, whether auditioning Julie Halston's insane lush actress, painting Patrick Kerr's Mr. DePinna or herding cats. (adoption of said kittens is possible inquire at the theater)  Mark Linn-Baker balances the pyro his Paul Sycamore is so fond of with genuine love and compassion for his harried daughter, Alice. Rose Byrne makes an impressive Broadway debut as the normal Alice, showing in her delight at being in love that she's inherited just as much emotional vibrancy from her Vanderhof/Sycamore genes as the rest of the family.

What a pair is Patrick Kerr's naive Ed and Annaleigh Ashford's ever dancing Essie. If you want to take notes on comic genius, just watch the perfect landing when Ms. Ashford delicately poses next to Johanna Day's regal Mrs. Kirby. It would also be remiss to forget to mention Elizabeth Ashley's spot on Grand Duchess Olga. Her time on stage is oh so brief, yet this refugee from the Russian revolution who is now the best hash slinger in New York City is a gem.

It feels inadequate to leave out the rest of the large cast. Let's just say that even the G-men are perfectly cast.  It would be easy to embrace the crazy, so hats off to director Scott Ellis for remembering the love and humanity at the heart of this play.

You Can't Take It With You is being performed at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway. For tickets and other performance information please visit

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