annaleigh ashford

Five Reasons to See ‘You Can’t Take It With You’

Two of the all-time bestest shows are coming back to Broadway this fall. There’s On The Town, opening later this month (TICKETS PLEASE), and You Can’t Take It With You, currently in previews.  We saw YCTIWY and were totally blown away by the quality of the production and the endearing relevance of its message. Here are the top five reason to get your tickets asap…

1) They put a revolving house on stage…

It’s an insane time for set designers. Rocky made the Winter Garden into an action-packed stadium arena, Bullets Over Broadway had a revolving stage within a stage, Act One constructed a spinning home. Sets have become grander, bigger, realer, and more detailed. You Can’t Take It With You goes big and goes home with its enormous, all-encompassing Vanderhof house, lined with knick-knacks, frames, and eye-catching curiosities.  It’s the perfect setting for the happily eccentric Vanderhof-Sycamore family. Its complexity and detail keeps the audience wondering and gazing throughout the play’s three acts, all of which take place right in the family’s home.

Also, there are fireworks. Several times. And kittens. Definitely not enough kittens.

2) Motherflipping James Earl Jones…

The man is a film and theatre legend. At 83, he still possesses a youthfulness and vigor that energizes his performance. Jones is perfect for the role– the whimsical, wise, and frank Vanderhof patriarch who takes joy in life’s small wonders and people’s individuality.  He takes it on with a playful, confident acuity, and by the end, we are more than ready to join the dark side with him. Sir, we are not worthy.


3)…and the rest of that cast!

 It’s no surprise that Annaleigh Ashford was a stand-out among this large ensemble. Her bright and bubbly ease masks the fact that every piece of her performance as Essie is optimized for laughs, from the deliberate awkwardness of her dancing to the slight changes in the nasally pitch of her voice. Also a joy to watch is Will Brill, playing Essie’s husband Ed. He brings a childlike thrill to every scene,

4) Because our world is still as messy as it was in the Great Depression…

Kaufman & Hart won the 1937 Pulitzer for Drama with YCTIWY, and the film adaptation (an early Frank Capra-Jimmy Stewart collaboration) won the Best Picture Oscar in 1938. It’s remarkable to see how many of the same conversations from nearly 80 years ago are still relevant to our present cultural climate. Conversations like the role of government and taxes in our freedoms, the stifling of passion and creativity in a work-minded people, the overwhelming influence of having/not having money, and so much more. The play leaves you with a sense of perspective in a way that few other comedies, or even tragedies, do. It’s refreshing to walk out of a theater clear-minded, focused, and happy.


Kristine Nielsen, Will Brill, and Annaleigh Ashford and that gorgeous set

5) …And YCTIWY shows us how to deal with it gracefully

YCTIWY’s goal is happiness, not politics. It’s about joy, not justice.  And as much as I’d love to write a whole essay about the competing civic theories at war in the play, or link the politics of the times to the Vanderhof’s refusal to engage in money-minded ideologies of success, I just don’t think it’s really what we’re supposed to take away. The “It” of “You Can’t Take It With You” certainly refers to money and wealth, but it also refers to anything that distracts from the everyday joys of living. That goes for petty politics, for hurtful relationships, for stubborn ideas, for resentment. Just leave it to Grandpa Vanderhof, saying grace at the dinner table:

Well, Sir, we’ve been getting along pretty good for quite a while now, and we’re certainly much obliged. Remember, all we ask is to just go along and be happy in our own sort of way. Of course we want to keep our health but as far as anything else is concerned, we’ll leave it to You. Thank You.”


Kinky Boots on Broadway

Sunday night’s TONY Awards is destined to be a British showdown for Best New Musical. Matilda, originally from Britain and the musical with the most Olivier-awards ever won, stands to likewise sweep up its fair share of TONYs if it can tear them out of Kinky Boots’ colorful, bedazzled grasp.

And that, gentle reader… or weirdo stranger (whichever you prefer to be called) is going to be a difficult task.

Why? Because Kinky Boots is the entire package. It’s a feel-good story that blends just the right amount of entertainment and social critique. It’s a vehicle for what many feel is an urgent civil rights issue, but it also stands clear of getting too preachy or divested from the characters’ motivations. It’s got clever, fun, cross-genre songs by Cyndi Lauper (you know them TONY voters love that cross-genre stuff by famous people) and a heartfelt, well-paced, and witty book by Harvey Fierstein (you know them TONY voters love the Fierman).

Visually, Kinky Boots is also a treat. The sets are realistic, yet practical– a mountain of shoe boxes can flip around into a bathroom stall, factory conveyor belts make handy tools for an OK Go-style dance number. The costumes are… well, let’s just say if you have an entire song devoted to how amazing shoes are and another song about how burgundy is the least sexiest color, you know there’s got to be some serious stress in the costume department or else someone’s going to lose a job.

Also likely to sweep up an award Sunday night is Annaleigh Ashford, whose supporting role nearly steals the show… and that’s hard to do when you’ve got half a dozen drag queens parading around you. Billy Porter and Stark Stands are going head to head for that Best Actor award. And in full confidentiality, I’m on Team Stark. I mean, haven’t enough Starks suffered on television this week? I pretty much knew I was Team Stark when I exited the theater with my fists in the air, in full Steve Holt style, saying “Stark Sands.” ButyeaBillyPorterisgreattoosogoodluckeverybody!

Ashford and Porter admire Sands’ face. Or something.

Go get it, Kinky Boots! Sunday night is YOURS!


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