Review by Charlene Baldridge
It was both homecoming and coup de theatre when Kathy Najimy opened in "Dirty Blonde" at the Old Globe Theatre Saturday night. Her initial entrance stopped the show before it began.
Najimy, born and raised in San Diego, is no stranger to "Dirty Blonde," and she is certainly no stranger in the town that nurtured her and reveled in her New York and Hollywood triumphs. It's a case of get out of Dodge, achieve success, return triumphant and they'll give you a standing O. In this case, it is much deserved.
In 2001 Najimy, veteran of 20 film roles and now a resident of Los Angeles, was asked by director/co-conceiver James Lapine to replace his "Dirty Blonde" co-conceiver and original star Claudia Shear on Broadway.
The sweet comedy with music celebrates the life of legendary entertainer Mae West (1893-1980), who once said, "I made myself platinum, but I was born a dirty blonde."
Najimy, half of "The Kathy and Mo Show," is perhaps most recognizable for her roles as Sister Mary Patrick in "Sister Act (I and II)" and Olive in NBC's "Veronica's Closet."
San Diegans may recall Najimy in her formative years around town, doing improv with Gaffney, a role in the Globe's production of "The Robber Bridegroom," and in local developmental readings and performances of "The Kathy and Mo Show."
"Dirty Blonde" gives three performers ample opportunity to show their versatility. Najimy plays Jo, a rabid Mae West fan and aspiring actor who supports herself as an office temp. At West's mausoleum, Jo meets an even more rabid fan, Charlie (Tony-nominated Kevin Chamberlin), a film archivist who met and interacted with West when he was an impressionable teenager. Both Jo and Charlie are socially inept adults, and the story of their budding romance is poignant and endearing as it dovetails with scenes from West's films and life. Najimy's transitions from the insecure Jo to the assured, voluptuous and sexually outré West are impressive indeed. Chamberlin is endearing as Charlie, and hysterically funny as one of West's septuagenarian Vegas musclemen. His impersonation of W.C. Fields is dead on.
Also impressive is Tony Award-nominee Bob Stillman, who reprises numerous roles as the Man, an all-purpose character title that includes West's husband and original vaudeville partner Frank Wallace, her manager, her old-age factotum Paul Novak, and an effeminate hair stylist she set up in business when her stage and film work diminished.
The fourth star in "Dirty Blonde" is an electronically cued Yamaha upright that provides accompaniment for the musical numbers, arranged by Stillman, who acts as musical director. Douglas Stein creates a colorful and versatile shadow box set, and Susan Hilferty's costumes feathers, beads, boas and furbelows are endlessly fascinating.
West was an original, way ahead of her time in her double entendre bon mots and her personal lifestyle. She gave rise to other overtly sexual women from Dorothy Shay, the Park Avenue Hillbilly, to Dolly Parton and Madonna.
Because of its "naughty" quotient, and Najimy's briefly bared breast, "Dirty Blonde" could offend delicate sensibilities. For the rest, the show provides an extremely pleasurable evening in the theater. Now a bona fide hometown hero, Najimy earns the standing ovation she always deserved, proving you can go home again.
(Sally Mayes plays Jo Aug. 26-30.)
Charlene Baldridge is a writer and artist living in San Diego.