Review: Born Yesterday

Nina Arianda spreads comic joy on Broadway in the queen of dumb-blond roles.

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  • Photograph: Carol Rosegg

    TEACHER'S PET Leonard takes a shine to Arianda

    TEACHER'S PET Leonard takes a shine to Arianda.

  • Photograph: Carol Rosegg

  • Photograph: Carol Rosegg

  • Photograph: Carol Rosegg

  • Photograph: Carol Rosegg

Photograph: Carol Rosegg

TEACHER'S PET Leonard takes a shine to Arianda

TEACHER'S PET Leonard takes a shine to Arianda.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Forget yesterday: A star is being born right now at the Cort, and her name is Nina Arianda. No one who saw Arianda's stunning turn Off Broadway in last year's Venus in Fur could emerge uninfatuated: Not since the death of Al Hirschfeld have theater folks gotten such a buzz from finding a Nina. And now the preternaturally poised young actor hits the bull's-eye again as Billie Dawn, the fizzy bottle blond at the center of Born Yesterday.

Is the architecture of Garson Kanin's 1946 comedy a little boxy? Is there something quaint about the moral tug-of-war between Billie's loutish boyfriend, Harry (Belushi, suitably gruff and jowly)—a scrap-metal millionaire with a senator in his pocketbook—and Paul (Leonard, bookishly ardent), the intellectual journalist hired to tutor Billie? Yes and yes—and who cares? When Arianda is onstage, the play is total comic bliss.

Directed with an elegant touch by Doug Hughes, Arianda's Billie Dawn is a take-charge dame, carnally aggressive and self-delighted. Clomping around in Catherine Zuber's exuberant costumes, on John Lee Beatty's beauty of a set, she's a sex toy by way of Shirley Booth; this braying, unapologetic bimbo—"I'm stupid and I like it!"—may be a cousin of Jennifer Tilly's sour Olive in Bullets Over Broadway, but she's utterly adorable instead of appalling. This is the part that made Judy Holliday's career, and Arianda claims it all to herself. She succeeds where many would-be Billies, such as Madeline Kahn and Melanie Griffith, have failed: This is the era of a new Dawn.

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Cort Theatre. By Garson Kanin. Dir. Doug Hughes. With Nina Arianda, Robert Sean Leonard, Jim Belushi. 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.

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