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Dirty Blonde – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
June 8, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times

Alexandria Guyker (Jo)  & Daniel Doeuk - Photos by Matt Liptak

Alexandria Guyker (Jo) & Daniel Doeuk – Photos by Matt Liptak

It took more than fluff and fizz to create an icon like Mae West.  An iconoclast in the art of sex appeal (even the term was taboo when she started performing on the vaudeville circuit in 1911), West was the naughtiest of the naughty girls, a role she cherished and perfected throughout her lengthy career.

Jennifer Lyman directs Claudia Shear’s Tony-nominated story about an impressionable young fan, Charlie (Daniel J. Calderon), who becomes deeply affected by his meetings with the seductive actress.  She teases and woos him and they develop an ongoing, though unconsummated, affinity for each other.  As an adult he meets and is attracted to, Jo (Alexandra Guyker), another adoring Mae West fan, but his obsession with the movie star affects his ability to have more than a superficial relationship.

Alexandria Guyker (Jo) - Photos by Matt Liptak

Alexandria Guyker (Jo) – Photos by Matt Liptak

Janette Moman plays the voluptuous siren, breathing new life into the legend that drove Hollywood’s glamour machine for decades.  Moman’s voice and movements mimic the star’s singular appeal, and her ability to portray her vulnerability, as well as her sexuality, contributes to a convincing performance.

Janette Moman (Mae West) & Chris Gillespie   - Photos by Matt Liptak

Janette Moman (Mae West) & Chris Gillespie – Photos by Matt Liptak

Two consummate actors, Chris Gillespie and Daniel Doeuk, play all the other males that weave in and out of Mae’s life – – her husband, Frank Wallace, co-stars, assorted agents, beaus, dance partners and a judge and court clerk.  Set primarily in New York and Los Angeles from 1911 to 1984, the show features seven of West’s greatest musical numbers including “I’m No Angel”, “Oh My, How We Posé”, “A Guy What Takes His Time” from She Done Him Wrong, and “Dirty Blonde” from her Vegas act in the late 1990’s.

West broke every convention of the day with her racy behavior and scandalous stunts, and the show is as informative of her history as it is entertaining, often weaving her famous quotes into the dialogue.  “Are you shakin’ my hand or takin’ my pulse,” she asks a potential backer.  Later we learn she borrowed femininity advice from her fellow performers, a close-knit group of drag queens. She also appropriated the “Shimmy She Wobble” from Black acts of the day.

Daniel J. Calderon (Charlie) - Photos by Matt Liptak

Daniel J. Calderon (Charlie) – Photos by Matt Liptak

Mae’s story runs alongside the tale of Charlie and Jo, their tender friendship and mutual admiration of Mae, and his inability to free himself of his fixation with Mae long enough to let real love into his life.  “She never really let herself learn to love anyone but herself,” Charlie tells Jo.  Calderon captures Charlie’s transformation from awkward youth to awkward adulthood, and Guyker proves to be the perfectly cast matchup.  Complex emotional themes weave in and out of the jokes and the cast rises to the challenge.  Plus the production has a lot to recommend.

Costumes by Beverley Benda, Wardrobe by Jean Coyle, and fabulous hair and wigs by Rebecca Harris capture the decades of glamorous gowns, platinum blonde bouffant styles, and mountains of feathered accessories.  David Dender on piano and David Burrelli on bass bring the story and songs to life.

As far as the staging goes, I found it distracting to watch props handed off to the actors as they delivered their lines, and furnishings being shuffled on and off stage by clearly, visible stagehands.  Something you might expect in a black box production, but here, unnecessary.

Through June 27th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit

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