Joan Marcus
September 28, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

You Can't Take It With You

Current Status
In Season
run date
Annaleigh Ashford, Rose Byrne, James Earl Jones, Kristine Nielsen
Scott Ellis
Moss Hart, George S. Kaufman
We gave it an A-

Ensuring the relevance of a beloved but well-worn classic is as daunting a task as properly casting it—fortunately, for the newest revival of You Can’t Take It With You, director Scott Ellis keeps the Kaufman and Hart machine chugging along with aplomb. Assembling a first-rate ensemble and sending the audience roaring with snappy, smart staging, Ellis’ production is a reminder that revered classics with oft-stale notions (gentlemen callers!) need not feel like relics from the past.

Chalk it all up to top-notch performances from a dynamic cast with glorious comic timing. Presiding over them all is James Earl Jones, the marquee-heading patriarch of the dysfunctional Sycamore clan, who has achieved that rare level of legendary that infuses every word he says with a steady grace; he often breaks the manic momentum, but Jones makes it count. Kristine Nielsen—easily one of New York’s finest comic actresses—is dependably kooky; Fran Kranz charms as suitor Tony Kirby, and Julie Halston and Elizabeth Ashley both make the most of their brief, bizarre turns as a drunk actress and a Russian wash-up in acts 2 and 3, respectively. As odd woman out Alice, Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids) probably had the most to prove in her debut, but she’s a fine comic player and earns her keep among the seasoned colleagues, most admirably in her transformation into a frazzled madwoman during the second act’s tentpole dinner party.

But the clear stand-outs are Annaleigh Ashford (who has also been the best part of TV’s Masters of Sex) as wannabe ballerina Essie and her pretzel-legged husband Ed (a background-stealing Will Brill). Together, Ashford and Brill are pitch-perfect as the family’s nutty live-in couple, with Ashford’s physicality alone stopping the show on multiple occasions. It’s a one-note joke that Ashford elevates into something far beyond, and Brill is equally winsome.

Gorgeous set design notwithstanding, Ellis’ whiz-bang revival (playing through Jan. 4 at the Longacre Theatre) is a swell throwback to another era of theater, ushering the quintessential comedy back to Broadway with, quite literally, all the fireworks it deserves. A-


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