Wake up and smell the roses. Be happy. Follow your dream. Don’t pay taxes. Just go for it. Well the Sycamore family is doing just that in this timeless and ageless revival (by special arrangement with the Roundabout Theatre Company) of the 1936 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama, YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU which has lost none of its luster over the years and is now cause for unbridled laughter at the Longacre Theatre on 48th Street.
Messrs. Kaufman and Hart had a lot on their collective collaborative minds – most of it amazingly still pertinent and still very amusing. Eccentric characters. Farcical situations so well constructed that there is always a big payoff of laughter. And laughter is what makes audiences merry. Makes us feel good. There is nothing like hearing an audience roar with laughter and laugh they do time after time as the momentum of the zany plot unfurls with the increasingly farcical antics of the characters build to fever pitch.
Penelope Sycamore (a ditsy Kristine Nielsen) is a would-be playwright and painter. Her spouse Paul (Mark Lynn Baker) putters around the basement making fireworks with Mr. DePinna (Patrick Kerr). Their daughter Essie (a dead pan, en pointe and very amusing Annaleigh Ashford) is a would-be ballerina who “stinks” as described by her Russian instructor Boris Kolenkhov (a riotous Reg Rogers). Essie is married to Ed (the elastic Will Brill – a nervous printer who makes masks and plays the xylophone while looking like a human slinky. Their housekeeper Rheba (Crystal Dickinson) and her beau Donald (Marc Damon Johnson) tend this looney household headed by Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (the great James Earl Jones) who in true Dr. Phil fashion dispenses his wisdom of relaxing and being happy – having given up his job years ago to simply enjoy life – after all the best things in life are free.
An actress that Mrs. Sycamore has met on a bus – Gay Wellington is deftly played by the daffy Julie Halston who manages to get quite drunk and pass out and out and out.
Alice Sycamore (Rose Byrne – looking lovely in her Alice Blue Gown by Jane Greenwood) is the sanest person living under the eaves of the cluttered two story revolving home designed by David Rockwell (one wonders how the Sycamore’s collected all those items during the depression that hang on the walls and fill the shelves.)
Alice works and has fallen for a Wall Street boss’s son Tony Kirby (Fran Kranz – who has reciprocal feelings) and has done everything in her power to keep him from meeting her family but the show must go on and all three show up – on the wrong night – Tony and Mr. and Mrs. Kirby (Byron Jennings and Johanna Day – a perfectly uptight and snobbish couple). As you can imagine, all hell breaks loose.
Did I mention that Grandpa has been receiving letters from the government for not paying his taxes and is being investigated by Henderson (Karl Kenzler)? The outcome of this plot line is pure genius. There’s more.
Making her grand entrance in Act III as the Grand Duchess Olga Katrina – a displaced Russian Royal who now is a waitress at Childs Restaurant is the radiant and comically gifted Elizabeth Ashley in all her glory. She is the cherry on top of this delicious sundae directed by Scott Ellis with panache and precision. Original music by Jason Robert Brown adds greatly to the overall enjoyment of this first rate treat that encourages us to see the bright side of everything – belly laughs included.
Photos: Joan Marcus
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