TODAY'S PAPER
54° Good Morning
54° Good Morning
EntertainmentTheater

'You Can't Take It With You' review: James Earl Jones shines

James Earl Jones in

James Earl Jones in "You Can't Take It With You" at the Longacre Theatre. Credit: Joan Marcus

The philosophy behind the revival of "You Can't Take It With You" clearly takes its hectic, all-out, live-for-today cue from the title. In this high-powered cast of character actors and first-rate creative team, everyone overdoes everything all the time, as if, heck, they have it -- talent, budget, gags, script.

And they may as well use all of it all at once because, as Grandfather Vanderhof (James Earl Jones, with the beatific smile of a wise fool) likes to say, well, because it's fun.

Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman wrote their 1937 Pulitzer-winning comedy to cheer people up during the Depression. And though it's unnerving to recall an era when explosives in the cellar were considered benign, who's to say the time isn't right for a couple of feel-good hours about the need to be kind and happy?

OK, some of the busy business in director Scott Ellis' extravagantly good-natured production can be cloying, maybe a bit annoying. But most are lovely. After all, the authors asked for a house bursting with eccentrics for their clash of cultures between the freedom-besotted Sycamore family and the uptight Wall Street couple whose son (Fran Kranz) wants to marry daughter Alice (Rose Byrne in her charming Broadway debut).

So eccentrics we get in a 19-actor cast that includes just about every oddball theatrical comic (Kristine Nielsen, Mark Linn-Baker, Reg Rogers, Julie Halston) doing star turns with all the quirks they are almost always beloved for doing. And Elizabeth Ashley sweeps in near the end as an outrageous displaced Russian countess who waits tables and mourns the tsar.

We are in grandfather's memory-stuffed home; he quit his grown-up job 35 years earlier because he just wasn't enjoying himself. David Rockwell's set with the dusty-rose walls has old photos, masks, curios hung all the way up to the good old wood moldings.

Daughter Penelope (Nielsen) cheerfully writes un-producible plays. Her husband (Linn-Baker) builds and blows up fireworks in the basement. And when the rich future in-laws (the delightfully appalled Johanna Day and Byron Jennings) show up a day early, you may be forgiven for thinking about "La Cage aux Folles."

It's best not to wonder too much about Depression-era people who can afford not to work but can pay for a live-in maid (Crystal Dickinson) and her boyfriend (Marc Damon Johnson), who makes fun of being on relief.

Most deliciously, there is the dancing daughter, played by Annaleigh Ashford -- almost entirely on her toes -- with a joyful combination of humor and virtuosity. Jane Greenwood's terrific costumes appreciate that people without money are not people without style. And there are pet snakes and a massive turntable set used perhaps once too often and, just in case too much is never enough, a basket of kittens to admire.


WHAT "You Can't Take It With You"

WHERE Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St., Manhattan

INFO $35-$150; 212-239-6200;

BOTTOM LINE Fun in the Depression? Why not?

More Entertainment