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A CurtainUp Review
Willie Holtzman's new play, Smart Blonde, begins with Holliday (lovingly portrayed by Andrea Burns) at a recording studio. Holliday is 40 years old, and despite her meteoric rise from West Village clubs to Broadway and Hollywood, she's insecure about her singing ability. The rest of the play explains why.
Holliday came from a left-leaning family. Her uncle, Joe Gollomb, at one time wrote for the Daily Worker. According to Holliday's friend, Yetta Cohn, "he sips tea through a sugar cube while holding forth at the Café Royale with the other would-be Jewish intellectuals."
It was at socialist summer camp that Holliday met lyricist Adolphe Green. And she cut her teeth performing at radical events: a rally for the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, a fundraiser for the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Other members of her radical circle were Green's writing partner, Betty Comden, and composer Leonard Bernstein.
During the 50s, Holliday's ended up blacklisted because of her political associations. Unlike many others, she refused to reveal names of "fellow travelers." But the pollical turned personal when her husband, clarinetist David Oppenheim, who blamesd his stalled career on her political activities, leaves Holliday and their young son.
Fortunately, Holliday again found love with jazz musician Gerry Mulligan. But then x-rays taken after a touch of laryngitis reveal something much more lethal.
Smart Blonde is sprinkled with many of the songs Holliday covered: "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "Let's Fall in Love" and Holliday's last song, the one she wrote with Mulligan "It Must Be Christmas." Despite her somewhat thin voice, Burns delivers these songs with great feeling.
Peter Flynn directs a cast of four, with Mark Lotito, Andrea Bianchi and Jonathan Spivey playing the other principal characters in Holliday's life. Although some characters come alive better than others, for the most part the cast is quite believable.
Tony Ferrieri's set, a sound studio with piano and mic, is minimal. For scenes that take place elsewhere (21 Club, The Village Vanguard, an Italian restaurant, various apartments, the Senate hearing room, a hospital room) the audience has to use their imagination. But the intimacy of the set serves the play well.
Smart Blonde may be a bit too ambitious for such a small production. There are a few scenes that could easily have been left out. Nevertheless, the show creates a very true picture of the life and times of its subject.
Judy Holliday's two biggest film hits were Born Yesterday and Bells are Ringing. Both are classics featuring a quirky blonde. Unfortunately the quirky blonde who played those roles died too young and too soon. Smart Blonde is a timely tribute to a very talented woman.
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Smart Blonde by Willy Holtzman
Directed by Peter Flynn
Cast: Andrea Burns (Judy), Mark Lotito, Andrea Bianchi, Jonathan Spivey
Set Design: Tony Ferrieri
Costume Design: Michael McDonald
Lighting Design: Alan Edwards
Sound Design: Joanna Lynne Staub
Production Stage Manager: Stephanie Clark
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
From 3/16/19;opening 3/26/19 closing 4/13/19
Tickets: $35 (Members $24.50) www.59e59.org
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 23, 2019
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