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Born Yesterday

Nina Arianda, Jim Belushi, and Robert Sean Leonard do stellar work in Doug Hughes' smartly directed revival of Garson Kanin's timeless comedy.

By New York City
Jim Belushi, Robert Sean Leonard, Nina Arianda,
and Michael McGrath in Born Yeseterday
(© Carol Rosegg)
Jim Belushi, Robert Sean Leonard, Nina Arianda,
and Michael McGrath in Born Yeseterday
(© Carol Rosegg)
Many people consider Garson Kanin's Born Yesterday to be the funniest American comedy of the 20th Century, so it's a pleasure to report that marvelous supporting evidence for that belief is being offered by the current Broadway revival, now at the Cort Theatre.

In Doug Hughes' smartly directed production -- starring the consistently hilarious Jim Belushi, Nina Arianda, and Robert Sean Leonard -- not only does every line of pithy dialogue land as solidly as Apollo 11 on the moon, but equally important, Kanin's sardonic look at the nation's capital feels as fresh and as bold as it was in 1946.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, Born Yesterday has the gleeful effrontery to follow dumb ex-chorus-girl Billie Dawn (Arianda) after her nine-year inamorato, junk czar Harry Brock (Belushi) -- who is in Washington, D.C. for some shady political dealings with spineless Senator Norval Hedges (Terry Beaver) -- decides to have political journalist Paul Verrall (Leonard) bring the doxy-with-moxie up to educated snuff. In doing so, he's unaware of how she'll change both her outlook on life and her amorous loyalties.

As the realization she's being used to hide some of Brock's shady dealings dawns on Dawn, she shifts from declaring "I'm happy and I like it" about owning two mink coats to someone for whom a little learning is a dangerous thing. Meanwhile, Brock's accommodatingly corruptible lawyer Ed Devery (Frank Wood) and his cousin and number-one henchman Eddie (Michael McGrath) vainly attempt to thwart her growth.

Just as Judy Holliday put herself on the map as Billie in the original stage version (and earning an Oscar for the film), Arianda -- who made a splash last season in Off-Broadway's Venus in Fur -- proves here that she's more than ready to take Broadway by storm. She's fully alive to the way Billie's mind works, right down to making certain as she crosses the stage in a negligee with long train that she doesn't pinion it with one of her high heels..

Belushi is giving one of the season's best male performances as a rock-solid tough guy -- one whose face, notneheless, goes soft and gooey when admitting he's totally gone on Billie. Leonard, returning to the Great White Way from TV's House, emanates the integrity of the character, especially in Verrall's last stand against Brock, as he throws his lean weight around with unerring credibility. Everything is right as well with Wood's constantly imbibing Devery, Beaver's crumbling mountain of a for-sale Senator, and McGrath's busy yes-man.

In addition, the contributions by set designer John Lee Beatty and costume designer Catherine Zuber can't be underestimated. Beatty imagines a hotel suite of tacky luxe that gets the production's first big laugh and continues to delight with its attention to detail. Zuber's outfits for Billie are everything a gal with no taste but money to burn would wear. And all hail Tom Watson's wigs as well.

Indeed, let's just hail Born Yesterday as one of the best productions of the current season.


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