What. A. Ball. I knew I would have a good time at You Can’t Take It With You, but I didn’t know I would have that good a time. And what a great way to be introduced! I had never seen the play, the movie, nor the short-lived 80s sitcom (of which you have to watch the trailer). Who knew such an old-school play could feel so new and contemporary? And I mean, olllld. This play, written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, originally opened on Broadway in 1936 and won the Pulitzer in 1937 (click here for a little more history). It has since had several revivals, and I firmly believe Broadway will welcome back this most recent production with open arms.
I love this kind of screwball comedy. It doesn’t quite fall into the farce category, but it is still a full-fledged comedy packed with slapstick, visual gags, witty humor, and hilarious situations. What I like is that the humor is not relying fully on misunderstandings and mix-ups (except, albeit, for one big one); rather it generates from the quirkiest, happiest family you’ll ever meet.
The Sycamores live together in New York. All of them. Mom, Dad, Grandpa, daughters Alice and Essie, and Essie’s husband Ed. Plus the maid, her boyfriend, the dance teacher who is always there, and the delivery guy who never left. It’s actually a surprise to see such a big cast up on stage, and it’s wonderful, especially with this group of performers, but I’ll come back to that. Let’s return to the plot. Alice has fallen in love with Anthony Kirby, son of Mr. Kirby, president of Kirby and Co. down on Wall Street. The Kirbys are, to put it lightly, a little more straight-laced than the Sycamores, and Alice worries that the two families meeting might ruin any future she could have with Tony. When the Kirbys come over for dinner on the wrong night and the Sycamores are going about their evening in true Sycamore fashion, things go awry very quickly (much to our delight).
It’s hard to describe the Sycamore family in words; so much of what makes them hilarious and “out there” is visual. The walls of their house alone give you an idea of what these people are like. But despite how “crazy” they may or may not be, there is so much love in this family. They are genuinely happy to be together and to be going about their business. And with a cast like this, you’ve never been in better hands.
Now comes the time in my review when I stop everything to talk about Annaleigh Ashford. If she does not get a Tony nomination for her performance, I will picket Broadway. I have loved her since the days of Legally Blonde. From Dogfight to her Tony-nominated performance in Kinky Boots, and now that I’m an avid viewer of “Masters of Sex,” I can’t get enough of her these days. Now she’s playing Essie in a show packed with stars and winning performances all around, and she still practically steals the show. I, for one, in the big group scenes, couldn’t help but watch whatever the heck she was up to. Her grasp of physical comedy is amazing, and her line deliveries are like no other.
Okay, I think I got my gushing out of my system. Other standouts include Will Brill as her husband (just wait until you see his physicality); they make an hysterical pair. Kristine Nielson, as you know, is another favorite of mine (she plays Penny, the mother). Then there’s Reg Rogers as Essie’s Russian dance teacher, who always gets me; Julie Halston who stops the show by walking up the stairs; Rose Byrne making a great debut; and I haven’t even mentioned James Earl Jones or the rest of the brilliant cast.
I’m telling you now, readers: get thee to the Longacre for a joyous couple of hours packed with belly laughs and smiles that leave your face exhausted. Just do yourself a favor, and go spend an evening with the Sycamores. You won’t be sorry.
You Can’t Take It With You
Written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, Directed by Scott Ellis
Longacre Theatre, Closing February 22nd, 2015
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Annaleigh Ashford and Reg Rogers