The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review
Born Yesterday

I'm stupid and I like it.— Billie
You do?— Paul
Sure. I'm happy. I got everything I want. Two mink coats. Everything. If there's sump'n I want, I ask. And if he don't come across, I don't come across
.— Billie
Born Yesterday
Robert Sean Leonard, and Nina Arianda
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Not to take anything away from Suitton Foster's terrific delivery of "Anything Goes" over at the Stephen Sondheim Theater where Cole Porter's tuneful musical is once again delighting audiences — but there's another gorgeous blonde doing an unmissable rendition. This one is Nina Arianda who plays Billie Dawn in the new Broadway revival of Garson Kanin's 1949 comedy, Born Yesterday.

Billie's memory of "Anything Goes" dates back to when she was a chorine in that musical, before the thuggish junkyard tycoon Harry Brock (John Belushi) made her his mistress. Arianda's Billie doesn't dance, but her singing that Porter song as she plays her hand during the gin game she and Harry play each night is as precisely timed as any show stopping dance number. Besides being a highlight of Garson Kanin's American twist on Shaw's Pygmalion, that scene illustrates why for Broadway newcomer Nina Arianda, Billie Dawn is as likely to be the role to make her a star, as it did Judy Holliday who first played Billie on stage and screen.

In case you're unfamiliar with the plot, a quick stop for a mini synopsis: A self-made, gangsterish millionaire businessman comes to Washington to bribe a senator into backing his latest and biggest deal. Tin-eared to his own cultural shortcomings, he hires a journalist who recently interviewed him to smarten up his "dumb broad," mistress so she'll better fit in with the socializing that's part of his D.C. maneuvers. It's a move that sabotages both his business and his domestic arrangement.

Given its age, Born Yesterday is likely to prompt the usual question as to whether it's dated. In a word, yes, it is dated.

After all, well made plays with lavish sets with a first act, that's more or less a set-up to introduce the basic situation before moving forward to a big climax that satisfyingly ties up all loose ends are not the stuff of contemporary, economy minded theater. Neither is a large cast, replete with minor character (imagine a modern play set in an apartment hotel complete with an assistant manager, three uniformed bellhops, a barber and a manicurist).

But there's dated in a bad way and dated in a good way. The bad kind of dated makes modern audiences wonder why it was a hit to begin with; case in point: the recent short-lived Off-Broadway revival of Cactus Flower.). The other side of this coin is a treasure well worth preserving for its still pungent dialogue and stellar performance opportunities — which brings us to the revival currently at the Cort Theatre.

As directed by Doug Hughes and with Nina Arianda's summa cum laude interpretation of ignoramus Billie Dawn, Kanin's Born Yesterday is as much fun as if born today. While it takes time to kick in (call that part of it's old-fashioned charm), the snappy dialogue and the serious political subtext are as relevant as ever. The price of bribing a politician like Senator Norval Hodges (Terry Beaver) has gone up and the shady business men like Brock are slicker and more educated today, but more pervasive than ever. A Billie Dawn willing to listen and learn is a welcome respite from shoot-from-the-hip Tea Partiers to remind us of what a working democracy should be.

Hughes doesn't attempt to update any of the dialogue; for example, when her Professor Higgins, the idealistic journalist Paul Verrall (Robert Sean Leonard), transforms Billie into an avid reader, she indulges her book buying spree at the long gone Brentano's, once my own favorite book store.

Unlike Professor Higgins, Verall is instantly smitten with Billie. Their romance is pure screwball comedy. Billie's transformation from self-declared bimbo ("I 'm stupid and I like it. . . I got everything I want. Two mink coats. Everything") to bookworm is a feel good fantasy.

Under Hughes' direction the play retains its morality flavored farcical humor. The more serious sexual and political undercurrents evolve into a battle won by the good guys, making for the happy ending we all wish could happen off stage.

As the original play and the movie were very much Judy Holliday's show, so this is Ms. Arianda's. We fall for her hook, line and sinker as quickly as Paul Verall does. She evokes the voice and vernacular and richly developed character made famous by Holliday, but her performance goes beyond replication. She invests Billie with her own priceless '30s and '40s showgirl-speak, her body language and gift for characterization.

Happily, even with this triumphant Billie, there's plenty of unstolen scenery left for her co-stars. Jim Belushi to give a no-holds barred, chill-inducing performance as the king of junk, who treats everyone around him like so much junk. He is the nattily dressed embodiment of the proverbial phrase "power corrupts." Robert Sean Leonard brings an easy charm, shades of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, to his Paul Verrall. Belushi and Lenoard nicely balance each other, as when the thin-skinned, humorless Brock is excluded from Paul and Billie's daily tutorial and Paul counters Brock's annoyed "Two hundred bucks a week and I can't even watch!" with "Take you on separately, Harry. Glad to. I've got a special course for backward millionaires."

The rest of the cast is fine. Though I've seen and admired Frank Wood often, I wasn't bowled over by his portrayal of Ed Devery, the lawyer who lost his way from a great career to having only the crass Brock as a client. As Billie comes to see Harry as less than the big man he thinks he is, so she disdains Devery for resorting to Scotch and sarcasm instead of standing up to Harry's browbeating. Two small roles that bear special mention are Patricia Hodges as the Senator's well-mannered wife and Jennifer Regan as Helen the maid Billie befriends who also happens to be Ms. Arianda's understudy.

Not to be overlooked in tallying this revival's assets are the elegant production values. John Lee Beatty's set is true to the script's detailed stage directions which call for "a masterpiece of offensive good taste, colorful and lush and rich". Catherine Zuber, besides providing a number of smashing outfits for Billie, has splendidly outfitted Belushi and Leonard and the supporting players.

Straight plays nowadays rarely last almost four years as the original Born Yesterday did (more details on that production at the end of the production notes below). But this topnotch revival has enough going for it to deserve a healthy run.

Born Yesterday
By Garson Kanin
Directed by Doug Hughes
Cast: Nina Arianda (Billie Dawn), Jim Belushi (Harry Brock), Robert Sean Leonard (Paul Verrall), Frank Wood (Ed Devery), Terry Beaver (Senator Norval Hodges), Patricia Hodges (Mrs. Hodges), Michael McGrath (Eddie Brock), Fred Arsenault (Bellhop), Bill Christ (Bellhop/Barber), Jennifer Regan (Helen, a Maid), Liv Rooth (Manicurist), Danny Rutigliano (Bellhop), Andrew Weems (Assistant Manager). Scenic design: John Lee Beatty
Costume design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting design: Peter Kaczorowski
Original music/sound design: David Van Tieghem
Hair/wig design: Tom Watson
Fight direction: J. David Brimmer
Stage Manager: Tripp Phillips
From 3/31/11; opening 4/24/11l >closing 6/26/11 after 28 previews and 73 performances
Tuesday at 7pm; Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm; Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $26.50 - $121.50
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes including one intermission
Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street 212 239 6200
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 4/21/11 press preview

Background Notes
The comedy premiered on Broadway on February 4, 1946 with Paul Douglas, Judy Holliday, and Gary Merrill. It ran for 1,642 performances.

Judy Holliday wib an Academy Award for repeating her stage triumph, in the 1950 screen adaptation. Her co-stars this time were Broderick Crawford and William Holden.

A 1989 Broadway revival starred Ed Asner and Madeline Kahn, and ran for five months.

The reason Garson Kanin made Billie his heroine was he wanted to show that any one person has the power to facilitate change and to dramatically illustrate the point that such a person could truly be anyone, he made the story's heroine unpolished, unaccomplished and uneducated.

Judy Holliday rarely missed a scheduled performance or even a rehearsal until leaving the show, but did so in order to make the film Adam's Rib and to bring Billie Dawn to the silver screen. That was in May 1949 and the show continued with Jean Parker (who was the originally intended Billie) but sales lagged after her departure.

In the more than fifty years since the New Haven preview, actresses who've tackled Bllie Dawn on stage and on film include Jean Arthur, Mary Martin, Jean Hagen, Sandy Dennis, Bernadette Peters, Madeline Kahn and Melaine Griffith. All were established actresses but for Judy Holliday it was a star-making turn -- as it promises to be for Nina Arianda.
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Born Yesterday
  • I disagree with the review of Born Yesterday
  • The review made me eager to see Born Yesterday
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

Visit Curtainup's Blog Annex
For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message. If you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows-the complete set

You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company

Next to Normal
Our Review of the Show

Scottsboro Boys cast album
TheScottsboro Boyse

bloody bloody Andrew Jackson
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

In the Heights
In the Heights


©Copyright 2011, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from