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James Earl Jones Leads a Star Cast in "You Can’t Take It With You" at the Longacre Theatre
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James Earl Jones Leads a Star Cast in "You Can’t Take It With You" at the Longacre Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, jam Theatricals
et al.
in special arrangement with Roundabout Theatre Company

James Earl Jones, Rose Byrne
Annaleigh Ashford, Johanna Day, Julie Halston, Byron Jennings,
Patrick Kerr, Fran Kranz, Mark Linn-Baker, Kristine Nielsen,
Reg Rogers, and Elizabeth Ashley

You Can’t Take It With You
(You Can’t Take It With You Website)

By Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
Directed by Scott Ellis

With: Will Brill, Nick Corley, Crystal A. Dickinson,
Austin Durant, Marc Damon Johnson, Karl Kenzler, Joe Tapper

Longacre Theatre
220 West 48th Street

Scenic Design: David Rockwell
Costume Design: Jane Greenwood
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Jon Weston
Original Music: Jason Robert Brown
Fight Director: Thomas Schall
Hair & Wig Design: Tom Watson
Technical Supervision: Hudson Theatrical Associates
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA
Production Stage Manager: Jennifer Rae Moore
Press/Marketing: Irene Gandy/Alana Karpoff
Assoc. Producers: Michael Crea, Steven Strauss
Advertising: Serino/Coyne
Company Manager: Bruce Klinger
General Management: Richards Climan, Inc.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 8, 2014 Matinee

It was wonderful to hear boisterous, warm laughter at the Longacre Theatre throughout today’s matinee. My guest and I kept glancing at each other and those nearby, as audience reaction was so voluminous. The Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman You Can’t Take It With You, written in 1936, is filled with vaudevillian characters, all residing or visiting a West Side Manhattan townhouse, splendidly conceived by David Rockwell. The stone, townhouse exterior is seen first, then swivels to its detailed interior, a faded, living-dining room, with a skull-shaped candy bowl, family photos, tall stairway, busy kitchen door, busy front door, signs, piles of books, crockery, souvenirs and dishes.

James Earl Jones is Martin Vanderhof, the larger than life head of the household, who, on a whim, retired early from a boring job and filled a small cage with snakes as pets. He reads, he greets guests, he manages his frenzied family’s emotions, but he doesn’t pay taxes. In fact, his tax-free game plan is a joke on its own. That is, one of hundreds of rapid-fire jokes. I can just see Hart and Kaufman with pens and drinks trading barbs to see what fits. Vanderhof’s daughter, Penelope Sycamore (Kristine Nielsen), a wannabe playwright and artist, lives in the home with her husband, Paul Sycamore (Mark Linn-Baker), who makes a multitude of boxed fireworks in the basement and toys with erector sets. Paul’s helper in all things pyrotechnic, Mr. De Pinna (Patrick Kerr), walked into the house years ago and hasn’t left since. Penelope uses De Pinna as a Greek model for her painting hobby. Penelope and Paul have two daughters at home, Essie (Annaleigh Ashford), who languidly poses, off-balance, in ballerina tutus, somewhat en pointe, when she’s not cooking candy, and Alice (Rose Byrne), who’s written in as the audience’s alter ego, an insider-outsider, looking in. Alice has an office job and finds her family exasperating, but lovable.

More characters come and go amidst mayhem. This multigenerational, frenetic family has an equally entertaining housekeeper, Rheba (Crystal Dickinson), whose boyfriend, Donald (Marc Damon Johnson), is shuttled about for marketing chores. He dashes through the crowd and its paraphernalia with reckless speed. Ed (Will Brill) is Essie’s husband, who plays the xylophone, prints inspirational notes, and delivers Essie’s candy orders. An IRS collector, Henderson (Karl Kenzler), is mistaken for Alice’s boyfriend, Tony Kirby (Fran Kranz), but before Henderson can make sense of Vanderhof’s tax disinterest, he sees the snakes and splits. Essie’s Russian ballet teacher, Kolenkhov (Reg Rogers), is an instigator of spitfire political arguments. Penelope meets an alcoholic actress, Gay Wellington (Julie Halston), and invites her to read her play. Wellington creates a drunken ruckus on the couch and stairs. Tony’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Kirby (Byron Jennings and Johanna Day), show up a day too soon to meet the prospective in-laws, after Tony manages to propose to Alice, and the upper-crust, well-heeled President of Kirby & Company, and his Mrs., stay for hot dogs and a parlor guessing game, revealing their inner selves. Nick Corley, Austin Durant, and Joe Tapper, as G-Men, make a fateful arrest, enveloped by percussive and colorful fireworks vapor. But the late-show arrival of Olga (Elizabeth Ashley), a fallen, Grand Duchess in her fancy Russian finery, who cooks up a batch of blintzes, is the coup de théâtre.

The matinee audience was uproarious, start to finish, thanks to Scott Ellis’ tight directorial timing. Each punchline and burlesquean gesture zinged with rhythm. And, while one character was featured in comic dialogue, Ms. Ashford might be swinging her pointe shoe in swirls, with ethereal gazes, or Ms. Nielsen might be hauling her painting gear to finish a portrait of Mr. Kerr in Greek toga and leafy crown. All the while James Earl Jones sits with a grandiose smile, a paternal figure, who makes worries disappear. Mr. Rockwell’s sets are detailed to perfection, as are Jane Greenwood’s costumes, to Essie’s tutus, Mr. De Pinna’s toga, and Olga’s Russian frills. Donald Holder’s lighting made the fireworks explosions shiny and sensational. Jon Weston’s sound was bright and clear, and helped by Mr. Jones’ iconic baritone, while Jason Robert Brown’s original music added a retro jazzy ambiance. Tom Watson designed great wigs, especially for Essie and Olga, and Thomas Schall kept the wrestling (Kolenkhov and Mr. Kirby) safe and credible. This new production, by special arrangement with Roundabout Theatre Company, is a must-see, don’t-wait event. Kudos to all, and kudos to Kaufman and Hart.

James Earl Jones, Kristine Nielsen,
Fran Kranz, Annaleigh Ashford,
Will Brill, Patrick Kerr, Mark Linn-Baker
in "You Can't Take It With You"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Fran Kranz and Rose Byrne
in "You Can't Take It With You"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Annaleigh Ashford
in "You Can't Take It With You"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Marc Damon Johnson and Crystal A. Dickinson
in "You Can't Take It With You"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at