Billie Dawn–the corrupt tycoon’s awakening girlfriend in Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday–is such a juicy part that it enabled Judy Holliday to beat no less formidable a duo than Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson for the 1950 Best Actress Oscar.
But of course Holliday brought to the role an irresistible mix of vulnerability, strength, and hilarity, making Billie the least dumb (and most lovable) “dumb blonde” in history.
Well, it’s time for another go at it.
And so, rising star Nina Arianda is wearing the hotsy totsy outfits and getting the D.C. education paid for by her sleazy keeper, the one who pigheadedly screeches “The only cheap thing I own is you!”
Well, while Holliday was alternately woozy and growling, Arianda takes it to a higher pitch.
Using a Cyndi Lauperish voice and accent, she laughs loudly and barks even more so.
Her emotions are full throttle, whether she’s being a child, seductress, or whistleblower.
Fortunately, Arianda’s got the comic chops to pull this off, especially when she can’t think of her own real name or uses her foot to count.
Another classic bit is her rendition of the five lines of dialogue Billie said in a production of Anything Goes–not the current one with Sutton Foster, lol.
Her earnest delivery of each banal line is a gem of timing.
The lustrously designed production is too scream-heavy (Jim Belushi plays the demanding bully like too much of a demanding bully, if you know what I mean).
And the third act, where the bully gets his comeuppance from Billie and her mentor (the charming Robert Sean Leonard), feels protracted.
But by then you know for sure that–even if Judy’s legend will never take a Holliday–Nina Arianda’s star has been born today.