Dirty Blonde by Claudia Shear, now on stage at Buck Creek Players under the direction of Lea Viney, loosely sketches out Mae West’s career arc (1930s through her death in the ’80s) intertwined with the present-day (fictional) story of Jo and Charlie who form a relationship based on their mutual obsession over the actress. While not strictly a musical, it does feature a handful of West’s songs.
Sonja Distefano plays both West and Jo. However, Distefano does not capture the sex appeal, confidence, and propriety-snubbing aura that dripped off West, and her musical numbers feel stiff, as does her posture. She is much better in the role of Jo, giving a sweet, likable persona to a girl who tentatively forges a friendship with the equally awkward Charlie.
Jay Hemphill (as Charlie and many other characters) is the star here. He executes dexterous transformations from character to character, each with a unique look and defining personality. From bowler hat to ball gown, this dynamo convincingly carries off anything.
Michael Patrick Smiley is hit-and-miss in his portrayal of a number of characters. His performances of caricatures (as opposed to more realistic people) are actually his best scenes.
The show’s pacing is bogged down by lengthy scene changes, often-inaudible dialogue, and unnecessary movement. However, Hemphill’s performance and Distefano and Smiley’s shining moments help break up the tedium.