PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Born Yesterday — Nina Takes a Holliday

By Harry Haun
25 Apr 2011

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Terry Beaver brings some filibuster wheeze to Senator Norval Hedges, a shifty lawmaker doing Brock's bidding. "I actually do like the role. I didn't know if I would or not, but I sorta found a way to make it my own, which is not always so easy to do. What I liked about the play — aside from the fact that it's beautifully structured and it's very funny — it's still relevant. It's still going on. Senators are still being bought."

Patricia Hodges is Mrs. Hedges, a knowing politician's wife who also knows how to silently order a stouter drink when chaos starts to set in. "I don't have that many lines," the actress smiled, but I have my own little backstory going." All that, and costumer Catherine Zuber has given her some funny period frocks.

"This is my corrupt lawyer phase," conceded Tony winner (for Side Man) Frank Wood, who left eight months of Roy Cohn to a marginally higher calling as Brock's shady attorney. "This guy's not a sociopath. He's just corrupt.

"He's written as someone who's aware his career is not what it's meant to be. Roy Cohn celebrates who he is. He may be in hell right now, but he celebrated it while he was alive. This guy is not celebrating. The poor guy just can't help himself.

"His final toast was written by Thornton Wilder, who was mentor to Garson Kanin. Apparently, Kanin came to Thornton and said, 'I don't know how to finish this.' And Thornton Wilder wrote those lines. That's what Doug Hughes told us."

Director Hughes arrived at the after-party late, explaining himself with a quiet confession: "I never see opening nights. I had a quiet evening elsewhere."

But he did enjoy the work he put into this piece. "It has been a lot of fun to direct this play. Nina has been immense fun to work with. She is the genuine article, and I think she's going to be around for a very long time. She is great casting for this. The whole company is just sublime. I don't know if we could have a better Harry Brock than Jim Belushi. I saw Nina in Venus in Fur over a year ago at the second preview when we were going through our Scarlett O'Hara search for Billie Dawn, and I thought we'd be very lucky if that could work out. And, thank God, it did.

"Nina has made the part her own. She was uninhibited by the great legacy of Judy Holliday. I think she has come up with a re-invention of that great American character — by, I think, a great American actress who's only 25 years old."

Doug Hughes
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Hughes likes to vary the menu with old and new works. "I like to do a lot of different kind of plays," he admitted. What I like to do is visit many lands. I loved doing The Whipping Man. It was a rather different play from this. One of the pleasures of my racket is I get to change the channel pretty often. I'm not a specialist."

On the immediate horizon: "I'm going away for about five days' vacation, and then I'm going to start rehearsals on May 3 with a great cast — Julian Ovenden, Jill Paice, Rebecca Luker, Matt Cavenaugh, Simon Jones and Michael Siberry — for the Maury Yeston-Thomas Meehan musical, Death Takes a Holiday, for the Roundabout. I think that this is a truly soaring romantic story, with a lot of wit in it."

Robert Emmet Lunney, who understudies Wood — plus "bootblack, barber and bellhops" (Mr. Brock requires a lot of attention) — had his wife, Jan Maxwell, make it over the wall and back home for the opening. She'll star as Phyllis in Kennedy Center's super-Follies, now in rehearsals for a May 7 first preview and an opening on May 23. "I've got to go back tomorrow at 4 o'clock," she sighed. "I have to be there Tuesday morning. We're tapping for two hours every morning. It's a great leveler. We all come in, and we all have the sweats, and we all have to tap, and we all have to learn it. We're screaming with laughter."

The flow of celebs into the Cort included opera singer Marilyn Horne and Callas-to-be Tyne Daly, who made a lovely silver-haired duo. The latter has been crashing the former's master class at Juilliard for research. "She's a longtime friend," said Horne, "and I'm going to be crashing her Master Class," which commences July 7 at the Friedman.

Daly has a personal connection to Born Yesterday: "My dad [James Daly] was hired to understudy Gary Merrill as the reporter in the original cast when I was born. One guess what my birth announcement said. One guess. My mother and I were in Wisconsin at the time, but a month later we moved to New York because Daddy had a job here. This is the first time that I have ever seen the play on the stage."

Some second-generation star power fused into a rather glamorous New Two: Liza Minnelli and Roc Brynner. "We were both friends of Garson Kanin," he explained. WOR's Joan Hamburg brought along the "Little Focker" she's always talking about, her son John, who makes those movies.

Ariana Grande, sister of you-know-which producer, arrived glammed-to-the-gills and looking light years older than she was in Broadway's 13 (but it's just four years). She's now on Nickelodeon's "Victorious" and doing an album.

While waiting to make a Leap of Faith into originating a Broadway role, long-stemmed Brooke Shields said she's reverting to replacement mode — something she does quite well (remember Wonderful Town?) — although, as she hastily added, nobody can replace Bebe, but I am going into The Addams Family for a few months."

Dropping by after their matinees: Donna McKechnie, who'd just closed in Love, Loss, and What I Wore ("five weeks — move 'em in, move 'em out"), How To Succeed's John Larroquette, Lombardi's Judith Light (raving about the acting in House of Blue Leaves) and Good People's Estelle Parsons ("We're running till May 29, y'know").

The Merchant of Venice's Matthew Rauch and Lily Rabe, both of whom picked up Equity awards for their work in the classic this year, showed up, she on the arm of actor-director Pedro Pascal, who's wearing both hats — planning to direct again at Rattlestick in the winter and just finishing acting a role in a "Wonder Woman" pilot which might go to series in the fall.

Others attending: Norman Reedus of "The Walking Dead" with producer Cindy Cowan, songwriter Desmond Child, designer Malan Breton, Mamma Mia!'s Judy McLane, pint-sized character comedienne Alice Playten ("I'm writing a piece right now, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing this tonight. I love this movie so much"), Kate Jennings Grant and Manhattan Theatre Club's Lynne Meadow.

Kanin's widow, Marian Seldes, beautifully coiffed and with cane, came late and took her time entering the theatre, drinking in the theatre posters with Kanin's name writ large. She'd already seen this production and called the cast "delicious."