Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Dirty Blonde

Claudia Shear
Duke of York's Theatre
(2004)

Claudia Shear

Zoe Heller, eyes and ears of The Daily Telegraph in the Big Apple, puts her finger on it. Claudia Shear's Dirty Blonde, she concludes after an interview with the off-Broadway diva, is a full-blown fantasia about love, obsession and Mae West.

Anyone who looks for something like that at the Duke of York's, St Martin's Lane, should be well pleased with both Shear's show and her own performance in the title role.

Only if one is expecting either the Mae West Story or a review of her astonishing stage persona is one likely to be deservedly disappointed. "This is a play not a biopic," declares today's writer and star.

Indeed, Dirty Blonde tells us rather more about the lives and times of the men who live in the awesome shadow cast by the great Showbiz-Hollywood diva. West, Merman, Garland, Taylor even a mere image called Dolly is enough to stir them.

In this case Kevin Chamberlain is Charlie the camp, overweight loner who finds in Mae a raison for his cross-dressing and a mighty inspiration for his fantasies. Jo, the equally obsessed woman who makes a match for Charlie, seems to be of little more substance than a vehicle for Shear's own stage alter-ego. What else would she do when she wasn't being eccentrically, excellently Mae?

To say Bob Stillman plays most of the other characters would be an understatement. He is most of the other characters - including Frank Wallace and most of the action at the piano keyboard, too. In all honesty, though, "all" those in this fictional study of a legend and her hangers-on are creatures of their particular kind of night.

Dirty Blonde is smoothly directed by James Lapine with brilliant, economic design by Douglas Stein. And no matter how tempting it is to reach for one of those famous bons mots and a punch line, assuming there is one the rest of the press corps haven't mutilated already, I'll content myself with advice to young men, and women, tempted to "go West". Beware of the prevailing climate!

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole