The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

Search Curtainup








NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review
You Can't Take It With You

"Oh, the world's not so crazy, Kolenkhov. It's the people in it. Life's pretty simple if you just relax.— Grandpa to the disillusioned Russian emigre who claims everything "stinks."

"How can you relax in times like these?"—Kolenkhov

"Well, if they'd relax there wouldn't be times like these. That's just my point. Life is kind of beautiful if you let it come to you."— Grandpa.
You Can't Take It With You
Fran Kranz, Rose Byrne, Johanna Day, Kristine Nielsen, James Earl Jones, Will Brill, Mark Linn-Baker, Annaleigh Ashford, Byron Jennings(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The Great Depression was in full swing when Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman wrote You Can't Take It With You. People didn't they have a lot to be cheerful about. But that was exactly why this famous playwriting team invented Grandpa Vanderhof and his wacky family and assorted friends and visitors to their cluttered house near Columbia University. They wanted to bring light and laughter to a dark world.

And so they did!

No desperate struggling to get or keep any kind of food on the table in the zany Vanderhof-Sycamore household. Watching the farcical goings on in this beehive of dilettantism, was just the ticket to make people laugh away their troubles. Add a bound to end happily romance, Kaufman amd Hart's nifty way of mixing heart-warming sentiment with on the mark wit for each member of the constantly increasing cast. No wonder You Can't Take It With You was a one of this gifted duo's biggest hits. — winning a Pulitzer, a popular film adaptation, half a dozen Broadway revivals as well as countless community theater and high school productions.

The large, colorful cast is a sure-fire magnet for star casting and some previous permutations have featured some pretty big names — the last Broadway revival in 1983 starred Jason Robards, Colleen Dewhurst and James Coco and the golden oldie Frank Capra movie featured Lionel Barrymore and Jimmy Stewart. But there's no shortage of stars in the revival now at the Longacre! Director Scott Ellis has gathered the current theater's top scene stealers to recapture the classic madcap comedy's mojo. What's more the scenery every one of them zestfully chews, is in itself a knockout.

Coming as it does as we're reeling from another Depression, not to mention seemingly unending global conflicts, You Can't Take It With You's zaniness once again offers welcome relief from problem beset reality. With tight theatrical budgets making large casts the exception rather than the rule, just seeing the stage fill up with eighteen actors is a special treat. But the size of the cast would mean nothing if the director didn't steer his farceurs to make the most of Hart and Kaufman's smartly crafted characters and manage to keep the audience laughing without neglecting the serious subtext about how to live life joyfully.

You Can't Take It With You
Kristine Nielsen and James Earl Jones(Photo: Joan Marcus)
To give you an idea of what to expect, let's begin with the main players. . . As the owner of the cluttered townhouse is of course, Martin Vanderhof played with the easy-going eloquence and charm by James Earl Jones. Long retired from a promising but joyless career to devote himself to fun pursuits, and encouraging his family and friends to do likewise. Ownership of the house is his only source income, but even though a few thousand dollars meant something in the '30s, it's best to not question how he and his family maintain this happy but unsupported by jobs life style. The yearly money earned from the house is merely a device to underscore Vanderhof's anti-income tax stance.

Sharing grandpa's do-your-own-thing philosophy are his daughter Penelope Sycamore who abandoned painting to write plays when a typewriter was delivered here by mistake. It's a role made to order for master of ditzy types, Kristine Nielsen the scatter-brained

Penny's husband Paul (Mark Linn Baker) pursues his passion for fireworks that explode (naturally, not always in the right place) with Mr. DePinna (Patrick Kerr) the ice delivery man who became a member of the household eight years ago.

Penny and Paul's daughter Essie (Annaleigh Ashford) might actually earn some money with her candy making, but she determinedly focuses her joy which is ballet dancing. Ashford tops her delightfully idiosyncratic performance in Kinky Boots by moving across the stage almost constantly on her toes, usually with husband Ed (Will Brill) banging out accompanying melodies on his xylophone.

Naturally, even the most insanely unconventional family story needs someone more conventional. That brings us to Essie's sister Alice (a terrific stage debut for Rose Byrne (best known for the TV serial Damages). Alice actually has a day job working for a financier which opens the door to the play's romance, between Rose and her boss's son Tony Kirby (a charming Fran Krantz) and the explosive get together between her super-individualistic family and Tony s very proper parents (Johanna Day and Byron Jennings).

As Alice and Tony's romance set up in Act one will predictably survive, so Act Two meeting between her family and his parents (Johanna Day and Byron Jennings, in their own way as deliciously over the top as their more obviously eccentric hosts) is guaranteed to be explosive than anything coming out of her father and Mr. DePinna's experiments in the basement.

That's just the essential plot. Various subplots bring on a bunch of minor characters making major impressions.

Karl Kenzler, shows up long enough as IRS tax collector Henderson for a hilarious exchange with Grandpa Vanderhof on the pros and cons of paying one's taxes. The always superb Reg Rogers is a riot as Kolenkhov, the flamboyant Russian emigre who's Essie's dancing teacher. Julie Halston, another seasoned scene stealer does so magnificently as Gay Wellington, an actress with questionable credentials but an unquestionable taste for alcohol.

Crystal Dickinson is Rheba, the maid, a once de rigueur character in any family play the maid. Don't ask where her salary comes from, or if you should read something into the fact that she qnd her boyfriend Donald (a Marc Damon Johnson) eat at the table with the family all of whom addresses them by their first names, while Rheba and Donald use the more formal Mr./Mrs/Miss form.

But the parade of expert scenery chewers isn't over until it's almost over and Kolenkov brings on Olga. As played by Elizabeth Ashley this Russian royal turned waitress in America sweeps on stage with regal grandiosity — but quickly trades her furs for Rheba's apron to dish up a platter of blintzes for the all's well that ends well dinner party.

David Rockwell's already mentioned applause getting house, turns from its exterior to an interior that must not only accommodate everyone's hobbies, but a truly amazing accumulation of memorabilia. The characters are all exquisitely and authentically dressed by Jane Greenwood. Lighting, sound, wigs by Donald Holder, on Weston and Tom Watson further enhance this no expense spared production, as does Jason Robert Brown's incidental music.

Though nutty shtick prevails, make no mistake about it, this is not a 1930s version of the currently much done dysfunctional family story. The Sycamores are a loving, lovable and decidedly functional family to insure a decidedly enjoyable visit with them.

You Can't Take It With You by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
Directed by Scott Ellis
Cast: James Earl Jones (Martin Vanderhof), Kristine Nielsen(Penelope Sycamore), Rose Byrne(Alice Sycamore), Elizabeth Ashley (The Grand Duchess Olga), Annaleigh Ashford (Essie Carmichael), Mark Linn-Baker(Paul Sycamore), Johanna Day (Mrs. Kirby), Crystal A. Dickinson(Rheba), Julie Halston(Gay Wellington), Byron Jennings (Mr. Kirby), Marc Damon Johnson(Donald), Will Brill (Ed Carmichael), Karl Kenzler (Henderson), Joe Tapper (a G-Man), Nick Corley (a G-Man), Austin Durant (a G-Man),Patrick Kerr( Mr. De Pinna),Reg Rogers(Boris Kolenkhov), Fran Kranz (Tony Kirby)
Original music by Jason Robert Brown
Set design:David Rockwell
Costume design: Jane Greenwood
Lighting design: Donald Holder
Sound design:Jon Weston
Hair and wig design: Tom Watson
Stage Manager: Jennifer Rae Moore
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, includes 2 intermissions
Longacre Theatre 220 West 48th Street (212) 239-6200
From 8/26/14; opening 9/28/14;closing 1/04/15.
Tuesday and Thursday @7pm Wednesday, Friday and Saturday @8pm Wednesday and Saturday @2pm Sunday @3pm
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at October 1st press performance
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of You Can't Take It With You
  • I disagree with the review of You Can't Take It With You
  • The review made me eager to see You Can't Take It With You
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message. If you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
The New Similes Dictionary
New Similes Dictionary

Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show

©Copyright 2014, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from