Saturday, May 21, 2011

Born Yesterday @ Cort Theatre

Girl meets boy with money. Boy with money wants girl to get smart. Girl meets another boy with brains. Girl is now smarter that boy with money. Ladies and gentleman, you now the entire plot line to Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday. However, do not take this brief synopsis in the wrong way, this starry new revival is fills the Cort Theatre with class and humor on a nightly basis. This new revival of Born Yesterday delivers big laughs and, even better, a bright new Broadway star – Nina Arianda, who tackles the role of “the girl” with style, ease, and masterfulness that is without a doubt worthy of every nomination (from the Outer Critics to the Tony’s) that she has received!
Set in Washington, D.C. in the year 1946, this comedy tells the story of Harry Brock, a millionaire land fill owner who has just rolled into town to settle some back handed business. He brings with him his sidekick, cousin Eddie Brock, and lady friend, Billie Dawn. Waiting to greet him into town is his lawyer, Ed Devery, and Senator Norval Hedges. It soon becomes clear that Billie, who is an ex-show girl, is not fit to really socialize around the elite government officials; therefore, Harry comes up with a scheme. Paul Verrall, a journalist set out to correct the politics of America, is hired to educate Billie so that she may not stand out like a sore thumb – which would draw attention to the fact that Harry is in town only to deal with Senator Hedges who he is bribing to pass bills. As fate would have it, Billie’s education quickly takes off, power in Harry’s business unknowing increases, and control over Harry begins to take root. This piece, set to prove the problems facing the government today, is a hilarious look at how no one is as “dumb” as they look.

Featuring some well known celebrities to play the leading men, the revival of Born Yesterday made the bold choice of casting new comer Nina Arianda (soon to be seen in the upcoming feature film Tower Heist) as the female lead – Billie Dawn. Arianda delivers a truly masterful performance that has already won her and Outer Critics Circle Award. In a role that goes from light at heart to serious, dumb to genius, and comedic to dramatic to comedic again, Arianda moves through the piece with such ease and grace leaving the entire audience in absolute awe of her. She lays it all out on the stage – holding nothing back and giving everything to her fellow performers. It is clear that this is just the beginning of an extremely successful career for Arianda. Playing the hot headed Harry is SNL and According to Jim’s own Jim Belushi. While starting out a little rough around the edges, Belushi quickly smoothes out his performance by the end of Act I to deliver a very funny performance. While the portrayal of this character is not too far off from the character Jim in According to Jim, Belushi knows the comedic style that works for him and surely what works well for this piece. Playing the wise tutor is Robert Sean Leonard, known for playing Dr. James Wilson on the hit television series House M.D. Lenard delivers what can only be described as a quite performance in this role. Most of his lines are passed by, emotions are overstepped, and jokes are lost. Thankfully, there is a very gifted ensemble behind him making up for all lost humor. Frank Wood (Broadway’s Side Man and Spring Awakening), Terry Beaver (Broadway’s The Last Night of Ballyhoo), and Michael McGrath (Broadway’s Memphis and Spamalot) as the lawyer, Senator, and cousin respectively, all mesh together in fabulously to bring the simple comedy of playwright Garson Kanin up to its full potential. Even Patricia Hodges (Broadway’s A Man for All Seasons), who plays the Senator’s wife, brings the ensemble together nicely delivering nonstop laughs throughout her extremely memorable Act I scene.
Led by director Doug Hughes, this production flowed beautifully. The fast tempo and colorful movement truly allowed the humor of the piece shine through. It also helped that Born Yesterday features a slew of top notch designers that allow 1946, Washington, D.C. to be fully realized. With a design by John Lee Beatty (currently represented on Broadway with Good People), the scenic elements were truly stunning. The rich blue walls, golden staircase, and crystal chandelier – along with glasses constantly filled with booze – transported the audience into a high class hotel room that only royalty could (and Harry) could possibly afford. Also, Catherine Zuber’s (currently represented on Broadway with How to Succeed...) glamorous costume design is Tony Award nominated, and rightfully so. With high class suits and elegant dresses, Zuber leaves the cast looking top notch. Topping off the whole thing is the work of composer David Van Tie (Broadway designs include Doubt and Arcadia) who created an upbeat and wonderful original score for this revival.

While the play itself is slightly dated, this production is fresh and original. With a beautiful design and stunning acting, Born Yesterday is a light a heart comedy sure to please people of all ages. And, if you go for no other reason than to see Nina Arianda, you will have made an extremely smart investment – she delivers a must see performance!

Review By: James Russo and Ryan Oliveti

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