You Can’t Take It with You, in many ways the greatest of all screwball comedies, gets a stellar production from director Jenny Sullivan and a wonderful, Rubicon record-setting cast of 19. Robin Gammell is outstanding as Grandpa Martin Vanderhof, the paterfamilias of a zany extended family living on New York’s Upper West Side in the late 1930s. His middle-aged daughter, Penny Sycamore (Robin Pearson Rose), and her husband, Paul (Leonard Kelly Young), live with him, as do various members of the next generation, including married granddaughter Essie (Sonia Sanz) and single granddaughter Alice (Winslow Corbett).
The action revolves around Alice’s nascent romance with Tony Kirby (Rick Cornette), the dashing son of her Wall Street employer, the formidable Anthony Kirby Sr. (George Backman). Alice finds herself in a classic dilemma: The only “normal” member of her large West Side household, she falls in love with someone from the East Side-the coddled son of two very judgmental society types. In order to fulfill their dreams, the young couple must overcome their own prejudices and those of their respective families.
At the Sycamore residence, dad is in the basement with his assistant Mr. DePinna (Jamie Torcellini) for much of the night handcrafting fireworks for sale on the Fourth of July. This of course means lots of random and not-so-random explosions. Essie believes she is on her way to becoming a prima ballerina, despite the fact that her pirouettes around the cluttered living room invariably end when she smacks into something-or someone. Her husband, Ed Carmichael (Joseph Fuqua), seems a harmless enough sort with his xylophone and printing press, but it is Ed’s carelessness that sets up the night’s most carnival-esque adventure.
The Sycamore clan includes at least five more antic types: a very physical Russian ballet teacher, Boris Kolenkhov (Paul Ainsley); a black couple-the maid Rheba and her fiance Donald-who just barely evade stereotypical minstrelsy but are nevertheless well played by Colette Porteous and Chris Butler; a drunken actress, Gay Wellington; and a charming Russian duchess who has been reduced by immigration to waiting on tables (the latter two characters are marvelously performed by Stephanie Zimbalist). The result is an evening of absolutely first-rate theater, and comedy of a most heart-warming and universal stripe.