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Broadway Breakout: Nina Arianda in Born Yesterday

Sometimes, a girl just wants to have fun.

This is, incidentally, a pretty apropos sentiment when entering the Cort Theater to see the revival of Born Yesterday currently playing there.  Not only because the production itself is fun, but because the absolutely stellar leading lady, Nina Arianda, appears to be bringing more than a little bit of Cyndi Lauper to the stage with her each night.

To be frank, Arianda’s breakthrough Broadway performance is the real reason to see this revival of Born Yesterday.  Her Billie Dawn, a zany mix of Lauper and vintage screen siren, is basically pitch-perfect.  As a daffy former chorus girl who isn’t the brightest crayon in the box she strikes a beautiful balance between outlandish caricature and sensitive portrait.  In the second act, as Dawn is educated by Paul Verall (played with a boring efficiency by Robert Sean Leonard), Arianda’s subtlety really shines.  She brings a fresh honesty to Dawn, so natural and innate that it feels real, a human decency that can’t simply be attributed to education.

Jim Belushi, as Billie Dawn’s junk tycoon boyfriend Harry Brock, is wonderful as well.  He makes the most of his physical presence, and his ability to slide between spoiled, demanding child and menacing, abusive brute is chilling.

Ultimately, what may have been shocking in 1946 reads as par-for-the-course in 2011.  No one is stunned to hear that business men and lobbyists buy senators, these days.  Born Yesterday is no longer ground-breaking theater by any stretch of the imagination.

But it is a damn good night out.  I gasped when the absolutely stunning set was revealed, marveled at Arianda’s beautiful costumes, laughed quite a lot and rooted for our unlikely heroine.  I had, well… fun.  And sometimes, that’s exactly what a girl needs from her theater.

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