BORN YESTERDAY --

(Olney Theater, through August 23)

In Garson Kanin's 1946 comedy a New Jersey thug who has come to Washington to purchase some legislation gets put in his place by his not-so-empty-headed doxie. That's Billie Dawn, of course, and she's one of the great comic creations of postwar American theater. In Olney's expert revival, she's deliciously played by Dorothy Stanley, who suggests she might be Edith Bunker's pretty niece, the one they all said should go into show business. Under John Going's direction, "Born Yesterday" is as playable as ever. Ed Kovens, who looks like a rumpled double bed, gives a properly amusing/menacing protrayal of the bullying thug, and the supporting cast is right up to snuff. Embedded in this saga of the apparent nitwit who gets smarts and outfoxes the foxes is a strong belief in the democratic way. If "Born Yesterday's" idealism sounds a little dated today, the fault is ours. We have grown all too accustomed to chicanery in government. Billie Dawn, bless her, still has enough innocence to get indignant. -- David Richards

SATCHMO: AMERICA'S MUSICAL LEGEND --

(Kennedy Center Opera House, through September 5)

The great Louis Armstrong was a pro, but "Satchmo," the musical that purports to celebrate his life and artistry, has amateur night stamped all over it. Since the book, the direction and the new songs that accompany Armstrong's standards are all by Jerry Bilik, he would seem to be the person to blame. What little story "Stachmo" has to tell it tells poorly. Byron Striplng acquits himself on the trumpet, but his impersonation of Armstrong is rudimentary at best. The show's energy comes from Mauice Hines' choreographjy. Even the dances, however, grow tiresome by the end of this baldly exploitative endeavor. -- D.R.

SONG AND DANCE --

(Morris A. Mechanic Theater, through Sunday)

Musical Midas Andrew Lloyd Webber snapped together two pieces he had on hand and came up with this ready-made musical. Act one is a song cycle that might fill up a nightclub stage but looks and feels pretty skimpy on the theater stage. Making her musical theater debut, pop singer Melissa Manchester steps into the role of Emma, a waiflike hatmaker from England who goes swiftly through a succession of men while waiting for her green card. Manchester sounds swell and seems eager to act, but she can't quite lift the character off the lyric sheet -- maybe because there's really no character there. As usual, Lloyd Webber gets a few good licks in -- several tunes score high on the indelibility scale. The second act is a less successful affair, the all-danced story of one of Emma's beaus, who moves to New York and has colorful run-ins with hookers and pimps until he runs into Emma and pursues her a la "On the Town." All told, "Song and Dance" makes for a flashy, familiar-sounding, but not very filling evening in the theater. -- Joe Brown.