The unique three-actor play-with-music surprised audiences at Off-Broadway's New York Theatre Workshop in 1999-2000 prior to a move to Broadway's Helen Hayes. The work was not easily defined and word of mouth was good. It was, at turns, a comedy, a romance, a historical biography of Mae West and a kind of vaudeville all rolled into one. It tells the story of Jo and Charlie, two lonely Mae West fans who meet at her grave and form a unique relationship as they swap West tales (and Jo assumes the role of West in song-filled flashbacks). A third actor plays various characters in West's life. The DC run began Dec. 12, 2001, with Shear repeating her work. Mayes sneaked into the show Jan. 2 (she was announced to join Jan. 29 in Florida). Mayes is the Tony Award-nominated actress (She Loves Me, Pete 'N Keely, Closer Than Ever, Welcome to the Club) also known for her cabaret work. Next stop is at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach, FL, Jan. 29-Feb. 10.
On Broadway in 1999-2000, the entire cast was Tony Award nominated (including Kevin Chamberlin and the piano-playing Bob Stillman), as were Lapine and playwright Shear. Kathy Najimy played Mae/Jo when Shear left the Broadway production, and Shear played the show's post Broadway sitdown in San Francisco. The tour company also includes Tom Riis Farrell as Charlie (a role he played on Broadway after Chamberlin left) and Bob Stillman, recreating his Tony nommed work as Frank, Ed and others.
The national tour is produced by Jonathan Reinis, Allen Spivak, Adam Friedson, David Friedson and Ostar Enterprises. The Broadway design by Douglas Stein (set), Susan Hilferty (costumes), David Lander (lighting) and Dan Moses Schreier is seen and heard on tour.
Dirty Blonde is speckled with such West-related songs as "A Guy What Takes His Time," "Cuddle Up and Cling to Me," "I Found a New Way to Go to Town," "I Love It," "I Want You, I Need You," "I Wonder Where My Easy Rider's Gone," "Oh, My, How We Posé," plus Bob Stillman's original song, "Dirty Blonde." The comedy opened on Broadway May 1, 2000, and closed March 4, 2001, after 20 previews and 352 performances. *
The play marked Shear's return to NYTW, where she triumphed in 1993 with her one woman "tour de résumé" Blown Sideways, a 64-job search for employment. That piece earned her an Obie Award and a Drama Desk Award nomination. The first preview of Dirty Blonde at NYTW was Dec. 11, 1999.
The Dirty Blonde tour continues on to Royal Poinciana Playhouse, Palm Beach, FL (Jan. 29-Feb. 10), Majestic Theatre, Dallas, TX (Feb. 12-17), Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, Charlotte, NC (Feb. 20-24), Shubert Theatre, Chicago, IL (Feb. 26-March 10), Parker Playhouse, Fort Lauderdale, FL (March 26-April 14).
Tickets for the Kennedy Center engagement range $20-$90. For information, call (800) 444-1324.
To view the February 2000 Playbill Brief Encounter interview with Claudia Shear, click here.