Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Signature Theatre Dirty Blonde

By • Sep 13th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Dirty Blonde
Signature Theatre
Signature Theatre Ark, Arlington, VA
Through October 4th
2:00, without intermission
Reviewed September 10th, 2009

Mae West is alive and well at Signature Theatre. The theatre has taken on a challenging work and brought it to vivid life with an entertaining glimpse into the lives of two women: the celebrated Mae West, and a sassy temp/wannabe actress named Jo who is just a little obsessed with the her. Dirty Blonde is staged in Signature’s black box theatre with musical numbers of old, including “I’m No Angel” and “A Guy What Takes His Time.” The set is small and spare yet cleverly designed, and as time periods and settings flip back and forth during the course of the show, each is clearly conveyed with effective lighting, sound, and marvelous projections.

Star Emily Skinner doesn’t merely impersonate West; she becomes her. The vivacious and buxom West was sexy, coarse, outrageously funny, and utterly unforgettable. Skinner has played this role before and it fits her like a glove. Skinner is bubbly and larger than life as Jo, conveying sensitivity and spunk. As West, her own lovely voice becomes rougher, more honeyed whisky than butter, and her phrasing and distinct accent is spot on. Skinner is at her absolute best when playing West in her later years, barely able to move on her own and yet still as spirited and naughty as ever. She manages to be haunting and realistic as the elderly starlet, with an awe-inspiring attention to detail in her every facial expression, movement, and vocalization.

The show’s success also rests heavily on the shoulders of the two men who portray many, many different characters. Hugh Nees has a more central character as Jo’s love interest Charlie, a film archivist and fellow West fanatic. Nees is touching, vulnerable, awkward, and charming in all of his roles. He displays a deftness with various accents and moods, slipping easily back and forth between them. J. Fred Shiffman in an array of West’s former lovers, agents, and devotees was totally convincing. All three shared a great chemistry and fantastic dedication to their roles.

Skinner’s entire wardrobe is gorgeous eye candy, with sparkles and feathers abounding in vibrant colors. All scene, costume, and character changes are done effortlessly.

The direction by Jeremy Skidmore is lush, without pause or melodrama. The show flowed beautifully, and even at nearly two hours long without an intermission, the audience was hooked from start to finish.

You don’t have to be a Mae West buff to love this show…it’s a fun romp no matter how young, or young at heart, you may be. And this production is top notch.


  • Jo/Mae West: Emily Skinner
  • Charlie & others: Hugh Nees
  • Frank Wallace, Joe Frisco, and others: J. Fred Shiffman


  • Director: Jeremy Skidmore
  • Music Director: Gabriel Mangiante
  • Musical Staging: Matthew Gardiner
  • Production Manager: Timothy H. O’Connell
  • Assistant Director: Clementine Thomas
  • Production Stage Manager: Julie Meyer
  • Sound Design: Matt Rowe
  • Lighting Design: Dan Covey
  • Costume Design: Helen Huang
  • Scenic Design: Daniel Conway
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