You Can’t Take It With You

You Can’t Take It With You: Designer Statements


David Rockwell - Set Design

Central to the comic plot of You Can’t Take It with You are the eccentricities of the Sycamore family. The entire three-act play takes place in the house where this extended family lives in upper Manhattan. We wanted the audience to get the sense that this family doesn’t quite conform to their surroundings from the moment they enter the theater, so, rather than a standard show curtain, they see the front porch of a fully three dimensional, faintly Victorian, turn-of-the-century house, flanked on each side by renderings of two relatively modern apartment buildings from the 1930s. Inspired by architectural “holdouts” that are sprinkled throughout New York City, this image creates a stark contrast between the Sycamore house and the prevailing aesthetic of the rest of the neighborhood -- playfully hinting at the quirky family that the audience is about to meet.

The family’s eccentricities are further evoked when the two apartment buildings move off into the wings and the house is rotated 140 degrees to reveal the interior of the family’s parlor floor. Influenced by the Sir John Soane Museum in London – a former residence that is tightly packed with art, architectural models and antiquities – the dusty red-hued walls are covered with an array of odd artifacts, paintings and curios. Shelves are filled chock-a-block with books, art, and objects. To accommodate all 18 actors who will eventually inhabit the set during the course of the play, we designed a grand staircase with a balcony that creates a second level. As each act concludes, the action continues and eventually fades away as the House revolves back to its grey façade, flanked on either side by those imposing apartment buildings.

Set design models for You Can't Take It With You

Jane Greenwood
- Costume Design

It’s wonderful to be working on You Can’t Take It With You for many reasons:  I am working with director Scott Ellis again and with James Earl Jones, who is playing Grandpa, of course. I am also thrilled to be working with David Rockwell again – we had a very successful venture with Harvey. He is designing the set and all of the accoutrements of this rather mad household, and I am taking off from his approach. I really love working with all of these talented people because designing a show is such a collaborative art form.  Also, the fact that I just finished designing James Lapine’s  play version of the Moss Hart autobiography Act One at Lincoln Center and am now going on to design a later play by Kaufman and Hart -- it is really a tremendous experience. I especially enjoy the way the characters are written, how they are portrayed so clearly. Kaufman and Hart tell me as the costume designer so much about the characters. I am trying to make the costumes as realistic as possible for the period and style we are working in.

Costume sketches for Penelope, Mr. DePinna, Grandpa, and Gay Wellington

Donald Holder
- Lighting Design

The principal objective of my design for You Can’t Take It With You is to fill the world of the play with a living, highly sculptural light that provides the proper visual context for the audience  (in other words, how should we feel about what we’re seeing and hearing?)  and communicates the essentials of the storytelling. Light is the principal device for indicating passage of time.  We move through afternoon into twilight and late evening during the course of the play, and these changes are articulated by subtle (and not so subtle) shifts in angle, color and intensity. The sunlight, moonlight, and streetlight that pierce into the room though the bay windows of David Rockwell’s set must be closely related to the light on the sky drop that encircles the space and suggests the greater world beyond.  You Can’t Take It With You is at its essence a bright, spirited evening in the theatre, so it’s crucial that the light add ample doses of sparkle and kinetic energy to the proceedings.

The process of creating the lighting began with a careful reading of the script, followed by preparation of a scene-by-scene analysis from a lighting perspective,  and a meeting with my collaborators to discuss intention and overall approach.  I then developed a list of lighting ideas I would use to bring the world to life and created technical documents that the electricians referenced when installing the lighting equipment. I created the actual light “cues” or stage pictures during technical rehearsals and then shaped and refined my work during the preview period.

You Can't Take It With You is a Roundabout co-production. Previews begin August 26 at the Longacre Theatre and tickets are available through the official website.

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I’m so happy to be bringing you You Can’t Take It With You, the first Broadway offering of Roundabout’s 2014-15 season.

This play is classic comedy at its absolute best. The playwrights George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart were true masters of the form, writing hit after hit in the 1920s and 1930s. With Hart often coming up with the story and Kaufman spicing up the dialogue with his infamous punchlines, the two were a fantastic match. It’s no surprise that this particular piece was the greatest success of their artistic partnership. Combining memorable characters with skillful farce, the play has continued to be one of the most popular American comedies for decade after decade.

Set in 1937 against the backdrop of the Depression, You Can’t Take It With You also goes deeper than many comedies of its time. Audiences of the period were looking for escapism in popular entertainment, taking them away from the economic troubles of the day. This play manages to provide that needed escape through laughter and through the familiar plot of a supposedly “normal” family meeting a family of eccentrics for the first time. But it also slyly asks questions about class and makes us ponder the value of the pursuit of wealth versus the pursuit of happiness. It’s a wonderful lesson in deploying the comfort of comedy to discuss real, uncomfortable issues, and many a dramatist is indebted to Kaufman and Hart for paving the way.

You Can’t Take It With You also puts on stage one of the most amazingly diverse arrays of characters ever seen. One does ballet for her Russian instructor, while another writes a play, two build fireworks in the basement, and yet more are invited to dinner and never seem to leave. Roundabout’s Associate Artistic Director Scott Ellis has gathered a bevy of wonderful actors ready to dig into these roles. I’m particularly happy that the center of the madness will be held down by the great James Earl Jones, playing patriarch Martin Vanderhof. Pairing one of our best dramatic actors with one of our best comedies is an exciting proposition, and I can’t wait for you to see this performance live.

I hope that you are as thrilled as I am about You Can’t Take It With You making its first return to Broadway in over 30 years. I am eager to hear your thoughts, and I encourage you to email me at to share them. This season, as ever, I truly enjoy receiving your feedback.

I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!

Todd Haimes
Artistic Director

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Interview with Moss Hart’s son, Chris Hart


Ted Sod, Roundabout's Education Dramaturg, sat down with Chris Hart, the son of Moss Hart, the Pulitzer Prize winner and co-playwright of You Can't Take It With You.

Ted Sod: Your father, Moss Hart, was a distinguished playwright/screenwriter/director/producer who died when you were 12.  You are a director and a producer as well. What have you learned about working in the theatre from him or his legacy?

Christopher Hart: As a young man with celebrity parents I yearned to ignore my heritage (or, more precisely, have other people ignore my famous parents) and “make it” in my chosen career entirely on my own merit (which of course never happens, you’re always found out). After I got over that delusion, I had the good fortune to direct my first professional production with one of my Dad’s masterpieces, The Man Who Came To Dinner.  What it taught me was how beautifully the Kaufman and Hart plays are constructed: with economy, and wit, and warmth, and a sensibility, and heart/Hart that appeals to every stripe of theatregoers. It was a gift that can’t be underestimated.

TS: You Can’t Take It with You, which he co-wrote with frequent collaborator George S. Kaufman, had a run of over 800 performances on Broadway in 1936-38. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A film version was directed by Frank Capra in 1938. It is constantly produced by theatres all over the world. Why do you think the play has been so successful?

CH: There have been two previous Broadway revivals: one in 1962, when Ellis Rabb directed the Association of Producing Artist’s production with Rosemary Harris playing Alice, and then again in 1982-83, when Rabb directed Jason Robards playing Grandpa. That revival ran almost two years. The Capra movie, which won an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1938, was a completely different animal from the Kaufman and Hart play. Capra, using the same characters, turned it into one of his populist political potboilers about the corporate evil-doers trying to take advantage of the little guy. His movie was really more about Mr. Kirby and his relationship with his son than about Grandpa Vanderhof and his family of eccentrics, who’ve found the secret of enjoying the simple pleasures in life. You Can’t Take It With You, the play, was written in the Depression and has a lot to say about our current travails left by our “Great Recession.” The success of the play rests with the universality of the themes of familial love and the idea that riches don’t buy happiness.

Moss Hart

TS: Is the portrait of the working relationship between your father and Mr. Kaufman accurate in your father’s best-selling autobiography, Act One?

CH: If you missed the play—adapted and directed by James Lapine—of my Dad’s autobiography, go see the movie, which will be in theatres soon. It stars Tony Shalhoub (as both Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman), Santino Fontana, and Andrea Martin. It’s part of the Live from Lincoln Center series and will be  on PBS television soon. After watching the play, you’ll want to read the book, the best theatre autobiography ever written.

TS: What are the challenges of producing and directing You Can’t Take It With You? How difficult a play is it to cast?

CH: Not difficult at all. What makes You Can’t Take It With You so popular and a perennial favorite with student and amateur productions (it continues to be one of the top 10 best-selling plays year after year) is the breadth of characters and personalities on display: in age, race, gender, social status, a true cross section of society when the play was written and also true today in terms of the reality of the humanity on display.

TS: Were any of the characters in You Can’t Take It With You based on real life prototypes?

CH: As far as I know, no one in the Kaufman or Hart clan was the basis for anyone in the play. I think we all wish we had a Grandpa, Penny, and Mr. De Pinna in our families.

TS: The current Broadway revival will be directed by Scott Ellis with James Earl Jones starring as Martin Vanderhof/Grandpa.  Where did the idea of color-blind casting come from?

CH: A couple of years ago my friend and business partner Jeffrey Richards was doing the Gore Vidal play, The Best Man, starring James Earl Jones. I asked Jeffrey out to lunch and asked him what he thought of James playing Grandpa in You Can’t Take It With You. Jeffrey thought it was a fabulous idea and so did James.

TS: Do you personally relate to any of the characters in the play and, if so, which ones and why?

CH:As a younger person I think I thought of myself as a Tony, struggling with the legacy of my famous parents. As a grown younger person (I’m 66), I think I identify with Alice, who sees both sides of the play’s problem and struggles the hardest to deal with both her love of Tony and her love of her family.

Moss Hart with son, Chris Hart


TS: How do contemporary audiences relate to your father’s play? What do you feel resonates for people when they see a modern production?

CH: Even though the play was written a long time ago, the characters seem modern and their struggles to make ends meet and to “have a little fun along the way” have a very contemporary feel. The similarity between the The Great Depression and The Great Recession—as well as the gulf between the super-rich and the ordinary Joe—still rings a bell. One of the things this production accentuates is how beautifully Grandpa and his family accept all kinds of people—rich or poor, black or white—and the best thing that can happen to you is to be part of a loving family.



You Can't Take It With You is a Roundabout co-production. Previews begin August 26 and tickets are available through the official website.

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2014-2015 Season, You Can't Take It With You