THE BLOG
01/15/2015 05:19 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2015

First Nighter: Broadway's Richard Thomas, Anna Chlumsky, Café Carlyle's Cheyenne Jackson and the Duplex's Ben Rimalower

One of the Broadway season's very highest lights, the George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart You Can't Take It With You, at the Longacre, remains brightly illuminated now that replacements Richard Thomas and Anna Chlumsky have joined the hilariously accomplished ensemble under Scott Ellis's eloquent direction.

In this riotous look at the happy-because-zany Sycamore family during the later Depression years, Thomas is now Paul Sycamore, under whose leadership fireworks are manufactured in the basement for the fun of it. Not known for his comedy acumen, Thomas is wide-eyed funny here and obviously enjoying himself as much as contributing to all the enjoyment the cast lavishes. A nice plus is that playing opposite James Earl Jones, who continues as granddad Martin Vanderhof, he's reuniting with Jones for the first time since they were together in 1958's Sunrise at Campobello.

Chlumsky has taken on the role of Alice Sycamore, the supposed conventionally normal family member. She's also offering an engaging performance, although she's doing so as someone whose DNA is closer than ever to the rest of the clan's off-centered carrying-on. This Alice is often seen as a bit more sophisticated at having caught the eye of the boss's son Tony (Fran Kranz) than Chlumsky interprets her, but she's fine as she is. (Jean Arthur and James Stewart are the young lovers in 1938's Oscar-winning movie.)

Everything else taking place on David Rockwell's sumptuously offbeat look at a home on Manhattan's Claremont Avenue is as prime as it was opening night when I wrote that the production is "the kind of complete and total happiness that borders on euphoria."
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Alcoholism, divorce and homosexuality are among the topics Cheyenne Jackson says he'll be "candid" about on the Café Carlyle stage during his current two weeks stint. He definitely gets around to serious matters in what, despite the sometimes-serious agenda, is nonetheless an entertaining act.

The handsome fellow, who reports his grandmother called him her "little Rock Hudson" -- he'll get the movie role if it ever comes along -- has a baritone he puts to good use on a broad spectrum of old and new songs. Despite his declaration of candor, however, not that many of them relate to the more sober aspects of his stay.

Surely, the first three numbers -- "Stand By Me," "A Foggy Day" and "Besame Mucho" -- suggest nothing more for the ensuing proceedings than an eclectic clutch of ditties he likes and can put across with macho grace.

Only with the Elton John-Bernie Taupin "Your Song" does he get the personal. He dedicates it to his current spouse, who, he says, he first spotted across a crowded Alcoholics Anonymous room and is a crucial part of a sobriety that will reach two years in May. (His AA mentions raise a red flag about the supposed obligation not to discuss membership in public. Also, referring to a pending May anniversary sounds questionable in a one-day-at-a-time program.)

The thing about Jackson is that he's such an attractive guy and such an easy-going, often amusing performer that he's impossible to resist. For a first-time solo cabaret-er -- he admits he's never even been in this room before -- he's a natural. (What? In Manhattan boitery without ever beholding Bobby Short?!) At one point, he forgot a segue note, and, hardly flustered, he merely asked young, first-rate, jazz-oriented musical director Willy Beaman for it. Then he just kept going as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

When Jackson got to his Elvis Presley medley, he did a slick impression he'd previously unfurled in Broadway's short-running Presley memorial, All Shook Up. All shook up, however, was at no point what Jackson was during any part of his turn. I'd say the emotional high points were "Your Song" and his Diana Krall-arranged version of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You."

It continues to be striking how the love that dared not speak its name has now turned to declaring its presence through amplifiers, but somehow Jackson, talking about a life during which he confesses to hurting people, makes his sexuality as normal as 36 states have now determined it is.
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An interesting aspect of compulsion is that often curbing one compulsion leads to replacing it with another. An example at the moment is Ben Rimalower's Bad With Money at The Duplex.

The fellow, whose hilarious and disturbing Patti Issues had a long run in the Sheraton Square space, has followed up with the equally, if not more so, autobiographical tale of his life-long devotion to debting.

What a list of abuses it is! Some of it is downright sleazy. Those are his graphic descriptions of male prostitution and strictly with men, confessions of such unpleasantness that a patron might wonder why Rimalower needs to recount them to people drinking cocktails at small tables.

This is, of course, his compulsion to tell all as a substitute for still walking the streets to pay off money he's spent way beyond his means. Apparently, he's stopped that practice now that he's moved East and has become involved in show business where he hasn't been able to keep himself from running up sizable debts with someone else's credit card or from illegally dipping into company funds. Gesturing nervously as he spews his troubled past -- which includes (not enough?) time spent going to Debtors Anonymous -- what he's really doing is reciting a DA qualification oration.

Rimalower is undeniably a very talented fellow -- cf. Patti Issues and certainly his direction of Leslie Kritzer is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches -- but for a while it's tempting to disregard the talent under his barrage of off-putting incidents involving sex and drugs.

Before he finishes, though, he earns respect and sympathy for his plight. His redeeming point is that an addiction to spending money hasn't received the understanding that other addictions (drugs or alcohol, for two) have. He wants a discussion, in large part because he feels he's yet unable to stop himself.

Why he doesn't acknowledge that DA is on the case for its members is unexplained here. That's part of a sadness seeping into his conclusion. As he ends the 60-minute discourse, he gives the impression that his basic compulsion will resurface the minute he leaves the stage. Directed by Aaron Mark, his solo show is hard to turn away from.