PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 22-28: A Rising Star for Born Yesterday, an Earnest Hit, a Leavel Playground

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 22-28: A Rising Star for Born Yesterday, an Earnest Hit, a Leavel Playground Actress Nina Arianda is currently entertaining the theatre world with the neatest Cinderella story to come along since Sutton Foster was pulled out of the chorus to star in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Nina Arianda
Nina Arianda Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

When she performed with Wes Bentley in David Ives's Venus in Fur in 2010, nobody knew who the recent NYU grad was. But then the reviews came out. The critics liked the play, liking Bentley, but pawed over Arianda like she was the last bon bon in the chocolate box. One year later, she's been cast in the role that made Judy Holliday a star — the timeless dumb blonde Billie Dawn in Garson Kanin's social comedy Born Yesterday. The Broadway revival will begin performances March 31 at the Cort Theatre, the producers announced this week.

The casting is a remarkably idealistic move on the part of the producers, who are doubtless expecting the sort of Star-Is-Born reviews from the press that get theatregoers talking. To back up their gamble, they've cast a safe box-office bet (on paper, anyway) in the role of Billie's sugar daddy, the vulgar junk man Harry Brock. Jim Belushi, the star of the TV sitcom "According to Jim" and the legal drama "The Defenders," will play the role in the production, directed by the dependable (if habitually over-booked) Doug Hughes. No word yet on who will play the painfully earnest journalist (for the The New Republic, no less!) Paul Verrall, who's so stuck on Democracy it makes your conscience ache.

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Brian Bedford in The Importance of Being Earnest
photo by Joan Marcus

It's been rough couple of years for the Roundabout Theatre Company. Revivals of Mrs. Warren's Profession and Present Laughter at the American Airlines Theatre were received well enough, but didn't exactly light the street on fire. Ditto for Sondheim on Sondheim at Studio 54. Brief Encounter did better, but that was a borrowed production, not something the Roundabout grew organically. As for the former Henry Miller's Theatre (now the Stephen Sondheim Theatre), the less said about Bye Bye Birdie the better.

So one can hardly blame the company for greeting the positive response to The Importance of Being Earnest as absolute manna from heaven. The Roundabout has given the revival, directed by and starring Brian Bedford as Lady Bracknell, a head-spinning 17-week extension at the American Airlines Theatre. The limited engagement will now run through July 3. Make hay while the sun shines, as they say. As for the new musical The People in the Picture, which was scheduled to open at the American Airlines Theatre this spring, it will now be framed at Roundabout's Studio 54.

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Broadway producers knows there's another Jersey Boys out there somewhere. They just need to find the right pop catalogue, and a juicy back story to match.

Perhaps the seminal 1960s girl group The Shirelles will be the ticket. This week, The Drowsy Chaperone actress Beth Leavel was confirmed to star as late recording industry pioneer Florence Greenberg in the new musical Baby It's You!, which will arrive on Broadway beginning March 26 at the Broadhurst Theatre. The show takes an intriguing tack in that it tells the true-life story not of the group per se, but of the New Jersey housewife who discovered the Shirelles and became a force in the music business.

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De'Adre Aziza

The Hot L Baltimore is one of those roomy, early plays of Lanford Wilson that allows for interesting casting. Steppenwolf Theatre Company knows this sort of play well. The Chicago troupe had an early critical hit with their 1980s revival of Wilson's Balm in Gilead, which starred just about every Steppenwolf company member who ever went on to become famous, including Laurie Metcalf, Gary Sinise, Glenne Headly and Terry Kinney, all directed by John Malkowich.

For this new revival, Steppenwolf has drafted a couple Broadway veterans: de'Adre Aziza (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) and Jon Michael Hill (Superior Donuts, which began at Steppenwolf). Also in the cast, directed by Tina Landau, are Alana Arenas, Kate Arrington, James Vincent Meredith, Yasen Peyankov, Molly Regan, Sean Allan Krill, TaRon Patton, Namir Smallwood, Samuel Taylor, Allison Torem and Jacqueline Williams. Opening is April 3.

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Casting is now complete for the upcoming New York City revival of Abe Burrows' Cactus Flower, which will begin previews Feb. 24 at the Westside Theatre Upstairs.

As previously announced, the cast will be led by Maxwell Caulfield and Lois Robbins. A new additions to the cast is Jenni Barber as Toni, a role created by Brenda Vaccaro on Broadway and by Goldie Hawn in the later film.

The play, long the prisoner of mothballs, is suddenly a hot property. It's also the basis of the new Adam Sandler-Jennifer Aniston film "Just Go With It," due to be released in February.

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Next to the throne in the Park Sheraton Hotel barber shop where mobster Albert Anastasia received his last shave in 1957, it's the most famous barber chair in New York history.

I'm talking about the old barber chair where late caricaturist Al Hirschfeld sat when he sketched most of his famous drawings, in which he depicted the best of Broadway. The chair, along with his drafting table, has now been permanently installed in the lobby of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts' Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center. A ceremony was held on Jan. 25.

There's a hitch, however. The chair is not actually the original, the one in which he created the bulk of his most famous etchings. The one at the library came from the barber shop of the Chrysler Building, according to NYPL. It was given to Hirschfeld as a 90th birthday present in 1993 to replace an older one. All that remains of the earlier barber chair is the base. If you want to see that, it is on display at the Manhattan gallery of Margo Feiden, whose has represented Hirschfeld since 1969.

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