The wacky Sycamore family is inviting you to dinner! You Can’t Take It With You has seen multiple incarnations, from stage, screen, smaller screen and back again, and now it’s back on Broadway in a new revival at the Longacre Theatre. George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's 1936 madcap comedy explores the mayhem that ensues when a daughter's boyfriend brings his conservative, straight-laced parents to dinner on the wrong night. Directed by Scott Ellis and starring James Earl Jones, Rose Byrne and Annaleigh Ashford, the production opens at the Longacre Theatre on September 29. Read on for a little history about the award-winning comedy.
Kaufman & Hart had almost given up
After George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s first two collaborations, Once in a Lifetime (a flop) and Merrily We Roll Along (also a flop), the pair of playwrights tried to adapt Dalton Trumbo’s political novel Washington Jitters into a play without success. Hart blamed himself. In an effort to cheer him up, Kaufman reminded him of an idea they’d had years before about an eccentric family “like nothing ever seen on land and sea," recounts Broadway Theatre.
The plot didn’t matter
Kaufman and Hart got to work creating characters—among them, a wacky snake-collecting patriarch, and a fireworks-making father, a candy-making ballerina sister and Alice, the “sane” one. Three days later, before they’d even figured out the plot, the scribes sent a telegram to producer Sam Harris: “Dear Sam, We start work on new play tomorrow morning (stop) can you tie up at once Josephine Hull, George Tobias, Frank Conlan, Oscar Polk (stop) we are engaging Henry Travers here (stop) Moss and George.”
Critics adored it
After a pre-Broadway tryout at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, You Can’t Take It With You opened December 14, 1936 at the Booth Theatre—the very venue where Kaufman and Hart dreamed the play would run. The show received raves: “It’s a study in vertigo about a lovable family of hobby-horse writers,” Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times. “You Can’t Take It With You is the best comedy these authors have written.” As the country struggled during the thick of the Great Depression, the kooky Sycamores proved to be the perfect escape for Broadway audiences.
The comedy made history
You Can’t Take It With You marked a few firsts on Broadway. “Engaging a cast before a play is written is something entirely new,” Harris said in Broadway Theatre. The play’s first production ran for a whopping 838 performances, and was still running on Broadway when the film was released. This marked the first time in history a film adaptation and the original Broadway production on which it was based were both out at the same time. But there was more exciting news: The play won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
...But the film almost didn’t happen
Film directing legend Frank Capra saw You Can’t Take It With You on Broadway and knew what he wanted his next project to be. But there was only one problem: He was banned from Columbia Pictures after butting heads with mogul Harry Cohn. After scoffing at Harris’ outrageous asking price of $200,000 for the film rights, Cohn gave in as a peace offering to Capra. All together now: Awwww!
It put Jimmy Stewart & Ann Miller on the map
Before he became a household name with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in 1939, up-and-coming actor Jimmy Stewart was cast as Alice’s straight-laced boyfriend Tony Kirby—the small role was expanded to give the star more screen time. “I think he’s probably the best actor who’s ever hit the screen,” Capra remarked in Jimmy Stewart: A Biography. Fellow film newbie Ann Miller, who was cast as aspiring ballerina Essie, almost never worked in Hollywood again after mistaking Capra for an office boy! Luckily, she discovered her faux pas, Capra was cool with it, and the rest is history.
The small screen loved the Sycamores
First stage, then the big screen. What’s next? TV, of course! A 1979 small screen adaptation featured an all-star cast, including Emmy winner Jean Stapleton as Penny, Barry Bostwick as Anthony Kirby Jr., Oscar winner Art Carney as Grandpa Vanderhof and Blythe Danner as Alice. The play also spawned a short-lived ‘80s sitcom of the same name, and by the looks of its opening theme, it was absolutely amazing.
Revivals, revivals, revivals
The comedy has been revived on Broadway five times to date, featuring heavy hitters like Rosemary Harris, Patricia Conolly, Colleen Dewhurst, Jason Robards and James Coco. Fun fact: The 1983 revival featured some possible twerking at the curtain call. “The couples leap about, still in character, with such rowdiness you’d think they’d all been at a party rather than performing a play,” The New York Times noted. No word if James Earl Jones will shake it in the new production, but we’ve got our fingers crossed!
The kooky family is back with a bang
Eighty-two years after its premiere, You Can’t Take It With You is back on Broadway with an all-star cast, including Rose Byrne, who is making her Broadway debut. “It was really irresistible. It has so much heart and sentiment and intelligence behind it,” she told Broadway.com. What kinds of treats are we in for when we come for dinner at the Longacre Theatre? “There’s fireworks and love and Russians and pickled pigs’ feet,” says player Crystal Dickinson. “You name it, we got it!”