Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Nina Arianda. She made her Broadway debut last night in the revival of the classic Garson Kanin comedy Born Yesterday and, cue the trumpets and flashbulbs, a star is born. (Why does writing about theater make me sound like I’m wearing a fedora and smoking a cigar?)
Fresh from NYU, Arianda won raves last year for her role in the Off-Broadway play Venus in Fur, but this performance should kick her into the stratosphere. As the smarter-than-she knows gangster moll with a yen for gin (bottled and shuffled), Arianda is brash and funny yet also surprisingly touching, all while following in the incredibly daunting footsteps of the role’s originator, the Tony and Oscar-winning Judy Holliday. Ably supported by Robert Sean Leonard as the man charged with classing her up for the D.C. political scene, she is wonderfully present and alive in what could be just an extended dumb blonde joke. Whether off-handedly discovering her lingerie has a train (like a puppy startled by her shadow) or welling up at the thought of her hard-working father, she creates magic within this solidly entertaining though certainly old-fashioned play.
While we’re on the topic of great dames:
In the event that Arianda and Sutton Foster win the Tony for Best Actress (one in a play, the other in a musical), they will have claimed the prize for performances that both feature them singing “Anything Goes”. Cole Porter would be so proud.
- It’s a pretty great year for eye-opening riffs on the classic “bimbo” role. A few blocks away from Arianda’s fully-fleshed Billie Dawn, Tammy Blanchard is upending expectations and ditching blonde for red as bombshell Hedy LaRue in How to Succeed. While clearly not given as much room to grow as Arianda, Blanchard enlivens the supporting role’s stereotypes with a singularly cracked perspective and a lovable grin.
- Writing about these wonderfully vivid performances makes me think back to some of the other great “not-so-dumb blondes”. Here are two of my favorites: