MOM THEATRE LOVER: You Can’t Take It With You: Show Review by Robin Gorman Newman
James Earl Jones plays Grandpa Vanderhof, leader of a happily eccentric gang of snake collectors, cunning revolutionaries, ballet dancers and skyrocket makers. When the youngest daughter brings her fiancé and his straight-laced parents over for dinner, fireworks fly in this new, riotous, Broadway revival of Kaufman and Hart’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, You Can’t Take It With You.
The original production of the play opened at the Booth Theater on December 14, 1936, and played for 837 performances. The play won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
With spot-on direction by Scott Ellis, the show features an impressive, comedically gifted cast including: Tony Award and Outer Critics’ Circle winner James Earl Jones (Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, Fences, The Great White Hope) as Martin Vanderhof, two-time Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Rose Byrne* (“Damages,” Bridesmaids, Neighbors) as Alice Sycamore, Tony Award winner Elizabeth Ashley (Take Her, She’s Mine, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Gore Vidal’s The Best Man) as The Grand Duchess Olga, Tony Award nominee Annaleigh Ashford (Kinky Boots, Wicked, “Masters of Sex”) as Essie Carmichael, Tony Award nominee Johanna Day (Proof, August: Osage County) as Mrs. Kirby, three-time Drama Desk nominee Julie Halston (Anything Goes, The Divine Sister) as Gay Wellington, Byron Jennings (The Merchant of Venice, Inherit the Wind) as Mr. Kirby, Fran Kranz (Death of a Salesman) as Tony Kirby, Mark Linn-Baker (A Funny Thing…Forum, “Perfect Strangers,” My Favorite Year) as Paul Sycamore, Tony Award nominee Kristine Nielsen (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) as Penelope Sycamore, Tony Award nominee Reg Rogers (Holiday, The Royal Family) as Boris Kolenkhov, Will Brill (Act One) as Ed Carmichael, Nick Corley (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) as a G-Man, Austin Durant (War Horse) as a G-Man, Theatre World Award winner Crystal A. Dickinson (Clybourne Park) as Rheba, Marc Damon Johnson (Lucky Guy) as Donald, Karl Kenzler (Mary Poppins) as Henderson, Patrick Kerr (Stage Kiss, The Ritz) as Mr. De Pinna, and Joe Tapper (Witnessed By The World) as a G-Man.
The design team includes: scenic design by Tony Award nominee David Rockwell (Kinky Boots, Hairspray), costume design by 2014 special Tony Award recipient Jane Greenwood (Act One, Waiting for Godot), lighting design by two-time Tony Award winner Donald Holder (South Pacific, The Lion King), sound design by Jon Weston (The Bridges of Madison County), and hair and wig design by Tom Watson (Act One, Waiting for Godot). Three-time Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown (The Bridges of Madison County, The Last Five Years, Parade) composed original music for the production.
This production will be a sure-fire Tony contender, and it’s a crowd-pleaser on every level, with each cast member more than capably holding their own. Some standouts include:
Jones is a commanding presence, voice and all, as he convincingly shares his viewpoint on tax evasion, and serves as the glue that holds the zany family together .
Byrne in her notable Broadway debut delivers a layered, heartfelt performance.
Halston, who I’ve long loved, is drop dead hysterical in a very memorable cameo appearance. Her drunken trip up the stairs is a sight to behold.
Nielsen never fails to hit the quirky comedic mark as the female head of the household who eats candy from a skull jar and relishes the pursuit of playwriting, thanks to a typewriter mistakenly being dropped at her door.
Ashford is adorable in every sense of the word as an aspiring Ballerina and continues to make her Broadway mark….I can picture her being snapped up for a TV sitcom one day….so catch her on Broadway while you can! Her impromtu dance to her stage husband’s music (Beethoven on the xylophone) is genius! And, when she perches herself on the floor next to Day, as Alice’s fiance’s mother, her facial expressions alone speak comedic volumes.
The striking set, rich with eccentric detail, is like a quirky Sycamore character unto itself. And, that says a lot, given the cast of 19 never ceases to engage, even in the unusual three Act format.
You Can’t Take It With You is a feast for the eyes and the funny bone!