Dirty Blonde

“Dirty Blonde” by Claudia Shear
a kate west review
directed by James Lapine
at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena 91101
call (626) 356-PLAY (7529); running February 27 – April 4, 2004

Mae West was a fabulous, outspoken, sexy diva of vaudeville and early film who fascinated, titillated and shocked audiences of her day. Claudia Shear portrays West as fun and big and bawdy as she ever was in the recent production of “Dirty Blonde.” As the award-winning author and co-creator, Shear has played West in many different venues, including on Broadway. She collaborates once again with the mega-talented and brilliant James Lapine (also co-creator) who directs this produciton in his usual economical and remarkably savvy fashion.

The story revolves around West’s rise to stardom, chronicled by two modern lonely Mae West fans who discover each other because of their mutual obsession. Claudia Shear (as West and the lonely Josephine), Tom Riis Farrell (as her lover and various other characters) and Bob Stillman (various characters) make up the cast. They work very well as a team, transforming into different characters in different eras with professional simplicity. Bob Stillman also acts as Musical Director, creating a wonderful score in keeping with the vaudeville style of the production and each number is more entertaining than the next.
Casual fans my be surprised to learn that part of Mae West’s amazing life story is writing her own material, discovering Cary Grant and having the balls to live her life exactly the way she chose. Shear paints a vibrant and powerful picture of West, touched by sadness only toward the end of her life.

The show runs a bit long at about two hours and could do with an intermission. There seem to be several opportunities for a good break. In spite of this, the audience leaves the show wanting more and with the desire to go watch West’s more well-known films such as “Diamond ‘Lil” and “My Little Chickadee.” Spectators can visit the Playhouse’s current charming exhibit of her memorabilia after the show. This nicely highlights a delightful production which is loads of fun.

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