There have been many dysfunctional families on Broadway throughout the years, but none as charming and eccentric as the Sycamore clan in the delightful revival of the 1936 comedy, You Can’t Take It With You. One of the great successes of the playwrights George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, the show feels fresh and sprightly, primarily because of the seasoned cast of comedic actors and the lively, buoyant direction by Scott Ellis.
The idiosyncratic members of the Sycamore household are a sight to behold. Martin Vanderhof (James Earl Jones), grandfather and family patriarch, hasn’t worked in 35 years or paid income tax, and has a fondness for attending college commencement ceremonies. Penelope, the mother (Kristine Nielsen). is a dreadful, unpublished playwright that began her avocation eight years earlier after the accidental arrival of a typewriter to the home. Paul, the father (Mark Linn-Baker) builds fireworks in the basement along with Mr. DePinna, a former iceman who made a delivery years earlier and never left. Daughter Essie (Annaleigh Ashford), is an appallingly bad dancer who bounds around the living room all day long when not in the kitchen making candy. Her husband Ed (Will Brill) plays the xylophone when not indulging in his hobby of churning out inflammatory leaflets on his printing press. Then there is the live-in maid, her boyfriend, the Russian ballet instructor, an overly intoxicated actress, a Grand Duchess of Russia, and daughter Alice (Rose Bryne), the only normal one of the clan. She and the boss’ son are in love, but Alice is panicking about her beau Tony Kirby (Fran Kranz) meeting her offbeat family. For us baby boomers think of Marilyn Munster’s dilemma when she brought dates home to 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Add to the plot the disastrous meeting of rich, staid Mr. and Mrs. Kirby and the Sycamore family as well as over eager T-men and you have the essentials of You Can’t Take It With You.
Playwrights Kaufman and Hart have written a lightweight, but humorous, at times hilarious, comedy. The plot is almost secondary to the nutty, screwball characters the writers have created. The authors also manage to sneak in some pot shots at the rich, Wall Street, and United States governmental policies.
Director Scott Ellis has molded the large cast into a smooth running production that is crisp and bustling with energy. The actors and actresses move about the stage of the Longacre Theatre in perfect harmony, which is quite an accomplishment with so many performers in motion at one time.
The entire cast is such a pleasure to watch. Their comic timing is pure theatrical magic. While everyone deserves a mention, let me put the spotlight on just a few. James Earl Jones is contemplative and sagely as the affable and good-natured grandfather. Kristine Nielsen is daffy, determined, and simply marvelous as Mrs. Sycamore. Annaleigh Ashford as the ungraceful Essie delivers another comic gem of a performance. Her rendition of “The History of Wrong Men” from Kinky Boots was one of the best comedic songs from a Broadway show in recent memory. Her dancing is so bad it’s good and her mannerisms, even the most minute, are priceless. Rose Byrne, better known for her film comedies, makes a sparkling Broadway debut as the hapless Alice Sycamore. Julie Halston, who was so outrageously funny in last season’s Off-Broadway, The Tribute Artist, has a very small role as the inebriated actress Gay Wellington. Yet, her moments on stage are hysterical with no one telling the “Man From Nantucket” joke better.
David Rockwell’s scenic design of the interior of the Sycamore home is as eccentric and outlandish as the family itself. The walls are chocked full of knick-knacks, relics, and assorted tchotchkes. It truly adds to the whimsical, quirky nature of the show.
You Can’t Take It With You, an entertaining diversion, playing through January 4, 2015.