Nearly 80 years after it took The Great White Way by storm, You Can’t Take It With You—the timeless comedic three-act play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart—will start previews on August 26 at the Longacre Theatre. Passport reporter Marcus Scott sat down with members of the cast and creative team of the now-iconic stage play during a one-hour photo call prior to rehearsal to talk about the play, its messages, family, race relations and the legacy of the celebrated show.
“This is play is that is very insulated,” Crystal A. Dickinson (who plays Rheba) proclaimed. “So everything takes place within this house and it seems to me that family has found a way to live in love and joy and in peace in the midst of whatever is going on outside the door. It’s a very interesting play because you don’t even get a sense of what’s going on outside of the door. Maybe that’s why won the Pulitzer.”
You Can’t Take It with You received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1937. Actor-director Ellis Rabb resuscitated the play on Broadway in 1983 with a multiple award-winning all-star cast that included George Rose, Jason Robards, Elizabeth Wilson and “The Queen of Off-Broadway,” Colleen Dewhurst. The Kaufman and Hart effort was to be revived in 2010 with producer Elizabeth I. McCann at the helm and a supposedly scheduled pre-Broadway run at the Huntington Theater Company in Boston. (It’s rumored that the original producers couldn’t raise the funds and either lost or relinquished the rights to the show). Directed by six-time Tony nominee Scott Ellis, this will be the first time in over three decades that Kaufman-Hart kitchen sink epic will get the green light on Broadway.
Two-time Tony Award winner James Earl Jones, who plays the role of Grandpa Vanderhof—the snake-raising, income tax-evading patriarch of the eccentric New York City-based Sycamore family—returns to the Broadway stage after garnishing praise in Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy opposite Vanessa Redgrave and Boyd Gaines at the Golden Theatre, and gaining another Tony nomination for his part as President Art Hockstader in the 2012 Broadway revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.
Inquiring minds wanted to know if the spry 83-year-old thespian had anything to say to Australian actress Rose Byrne, who will be making her Broadway debut this fall. Jones, however, feels he has very little wisdom to give.
“They know more than I do. I can’t give them advice because I’ll get in the way of their light, their creativity. A director can, but a fellow actor can’t,” Jones explained. “I sometimes go, “You know, what? I didn’t know that was in your character! I didn’t know that’s what that line meant!”
“Rose is going to be wonderful,” Jones expressed. Byrne, known mostly for her TV and film appearances in Damages, Insidious and Bridesmaids, joins a plethora of movie stars making a splash on The Great White Way.
“It’s such an honor to sit around the table and discuss the text with these actors,” the two-time Golden Globe and Emmy nominated actress explained. “It’s so nice to be a part of a show that’s really about love, you know? I’ve been doing rambunctious comedies and dramas like Damages, so it’s lovely to do this. I have so much respect for Broadway actors and what they do.”
Some actors are adjusting not only between mediums, but also between eras.
“You know, I’ve had a lovely transition from the world of present-day London and living as a feisty factory girl in Kinky Boots and then I got to go to L.A. to shoot the second season of Masters Of Sex [which takes place in 1960], where I’ve been playing Betty, the sassy-salty former hooker. And now I’m going back another 30 years to 1936 to play a beautiful, child-like role of Essie—the blissfully ignorant bad ballet dancer,” said Tony-nominated actress Annaleigh Ashford. “She thinks she’s amazing but she sucks a little.”
“I am a dancer, but it’s actually harder to dance bad than it is to dance good, so I’ve been trying to get in shape for that,” she confessed. Ashford was once a LES club scene regular and entourage for nightlife personality Lady Starlight. “I will absolutely use my days as a disco performance artist go-go dancer in my bad dancing. It all comes together.”
Tony-nominated comedienne Kristine Nielsen, who wowed audiences in Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike last year, noted that jumping ship from that production to this one wasn’t has hard as many believe. Nielsen, who channeled Maggie Smith in her last Broadway show, say she’s channeling her mother in this one. “I grew up in the sixties in D.C, and an African American man came to paint our house and he was going through trouble and mom was like, “Oh sit down…” He lived with us for 35 years, never paid anything, he went to all of our events and in a time when that was…” she searched to find the words. “You know what I mean? It taught me to open my heart up to new experiences and people… I don’t know anybody doing that now.”
You Can’t Take It With You
220 West 48th Street
Previews begin August 26.
Marcus Scott, an MFA graduate of NYU Tisch, is a playwright, musical theater writer and journalist whose work has appeared in Elle, Out, Essence, Uptown, Trace, Giant, Hello Beautiful and EDGE Media Network.