Making her Broadway debut Sunday in the second rialto revival of the 1946 comedy “Born Yesterday,” Nina Arianda wowed the critics. The original production of this Garson Kanin laffer starring Judy Holliday as the quintessential dumb blonde who proves to be one smart cookie debuted a year before the Tony Awards were created. In 1950, Holliday recreated her role for the film version and won the Best Actress Oscar over strong competition including Bette Davis (“All About Eve”) and Gloria Swanson (“Sunset Boulevard”). And the 1989 Broadway remounting earned a Best Play Actress bid for Madeline Kahn; she lost to Pauline Collins (“Shirley Valentine”).
While New York Times reviewer Charles Isherwood expressed reservations about the 65-year-old play, he was enthusiastic about this newcomer: “With her luscious pout and sweep of peroxide curls Ms. Arianda banishes Holliday’s pop-eyed, chirpy naïveté to evoke the surly molls of 1930s gangster flicks. Her Billie Dawn, streetwise and complacent in her illiteracy, is like a cross between Jean Harlow at her tough-blondest and the pop singer Cyndi Lauper, with her Queens-bred rasp.”
Mark Kennedy (AP) noted, “It is a hard part, requiring an airhead with a sing-song silliness in the first act and a pretty smart cookie in the second, set two months later. Arianda, making her Broadway debut, achieves both, her nascent independence and confidence radiating, her enthusiasm for learning infectious. When she leaves the stage, she is missed.”
And Joe Dziemianowicz (New York Daily News) wrote, “Arianda brings her own unique style and expressive charm, along with Swiss-clock timing, as the ex-chorus girl who’s long on legs and seemingly short on brains. Speaking with a crass squawk, the actress makes even the word “what” a laugh line.”