- The Washington Times - Friday, September 18, 2009

NOW PLAYING

Dirty Blonde - Signature Theatre - … This Tony-nominated musical, which premiered on Broadway in 2000 and is being restaged at Signature, is a raucous celebration of the risque movie queen and vaudeville star Mae West. It’s so good at defining Miss West’s raw appeal that one wonders why we need admirers to frame what’s a fascinating story on its own. “Dirty Blonde” - which gets its title from Miss West’s quip, “I made myself platinum, but I was born a dirty blonde” - isn’t the only recent dramatic work with this problem. “Julie & Julia,” in cinemas now, explores the life of iconic chef Julia Child through the lens of a contemporary Manhattanite inspired by her - and the film tends to drag whenever Meryl Streep, who plays Miss Child, is off-screen. Its misguided framing device notwithstanding, “Dirty Blonde” works; so beguiling is Emily Skinner as the sexy siren at its center. Hugh Nees and J. Fred Shiffman take on multiple roles - Miss West’s husband, lovers, co-stars, directors and hangers-on - with great gusto, transforming themselves each time. “Dirty Blonde” opens Signature’s 20th-anniversary season, and the company is riding high after just winning the Tony Award for best regional theater. Through Oct. 4. 703/573-7328

Eclipsed - Woolly Mammoth Theatre - …1/2 Woolly Mammoth’s production, directed by South African native Liesl Tommy, is about as good as it gets. The acting is astonishing, and Veronika Vorel contributes an evocative aural collage of Afro-pop and battle sounds. “Eclipsed” sheds light on five women, three of whom are the abducted wives of a Liberian rebel commander. Like the hierarchy of a wealthy Chinese family, the women are first known only by their ranking. No. 1 Wife (Uzo Aduba) is the oldest and has been in the compound the longest; she rules the pregnant No. 3 Wife (Liz Femi Wilson) and newcomer No. 4 Wife (Ayesha Ngaujah) with an iron fist, and there is plenty of rivalry and squabbling among the three. No. 2 Wife (Jessica Frances Dukes) has fled the compound to become a ferocious, glamorous rebel soldier. She recruits No. 4 into the army and into the banality of violence, to harrowing effect. Their lives are further shook up when a peace worker, Rita (Dawn Ursula), arrives at the compound. Through Sept. 27. 202/393-3939

Musical of Musicals - Metro Stage - …. First presented in 2007, this razzle-dazzler hasn’t dimmed one watt. And with the addition of Matthew A. Anderson to the original cast of Janine Gulisano-Sunday, Bobby Smith and Donna Migliaccio, the star power and unabashed joy have even increased. Directed with high-energy cheekiness by Larry Kaye, “Musical of Musicals” lovingly parodies 50 years of Broadway conventions and song styles in less time than it takes to sit through “Les Miserables.” Through Oct. 18. 703/548-9044

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Compiled by Jayne Blanchard and Kelly Jane Torrance

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