"Born Yesterday" at the Cort Theatre, April 7, 2011
Garson Kanin's classic spin on Pygmalion has returned to Broadway in a gorgeous, but uneven production directed by Doug Hughes. This vehicle, which made Judy Holliday a star, provides a similar opportunity for Nina Arianda, making her Broadway debut as Billie Dawn. Ms. Arianda certainly has earned the chance with her turn in the title role of Venus in Fur last year at Classic Stage Company.
The material is very different here. (For a plot summary, click here.)
The first two acts are quite engaging. It's the third act when things begin to falter. Mr. Kanin's script (perhaps inspiring at the end of WWII) devolves into a cheesy pageant of patriotism as Paul (Robert Sean Leonard) and Billie explain the error of his ways to Harry (Jim Belushi).
The change in language and tone are particularly noticeable because of the very miscast Mr. Leonard. Adding to the problem, he and Ms Arianda have such minimal chemistry that other events in Act II and Act III make very little sense. Mr. Leonard's performance is otherwise serviceable, but unremarkable.
Ms. Arianda starts out nicely, bouncing back and forth from sullen to perky to uncouth, and all with a certain charm. She reflects Billie's evolution adequately, but it's missing that spark from the chemistry with Paul that keeps it from working as well as it should.
Mr. Belushi's Harry huffs and puffs and darn near blows the set down. While occasionally effective, it's not enough to carry the role. Frank Wood is oddly inarticulate as Harry's lawyer, Ed Devery - disappointing from such a talented actor. Perhaps the choices were more those of director Dough Hughes, that Mr. Wood. It's as though Mr. Hughes spent most of his time on Acts I and II and ran out of time to focus on the weakness in Act III.
John Lee Beatty's black and white hotel suite set echoes the stark contrasts in characters, honest and criminal, cruel and kind, polished and uneducated. Catherine Zuber's costumes are gorgeous as always.
Born Yesterday is on a limited run through July 31. Click here for tickets.