THE GODMOTHER OF CAMP CHARLES BUSCH TAKES US BACK TO HIS OLD HOLLYWOOD
NCTC PRESENTS THE WEST COAST PREMIERE OF 'THE CONFESSION OF LILY DARE' “There’s always work to be found for a piano player who knows ragtime and a hooker who does anal”
Review by Vince Mediaa
NCTC closes its current successful season with the Charles Busch Confession of Lily Dare through June 11th on their Walker Stage. This is the kind of camp that Busch has staged for the past 35 years that is rooted in nostalgia and the magic of the silver screen. His love for Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell, runs in his blood. Founder and Artistic Director Ed Decker says “This comedy is a unique homage to our fair city by a long time friend. Set on the San Francisco Barbary Coast. This fast paced story is the fourth play we have produced starring J. Conrad Frank in roles originated by Charles.” Director Allen Sawyer has assembled an exceptional cast with the perfect comic timing to bring this over the top comedy.
The incomparable J. Conrad Frank plays the title role of Lily Dare, first seen in turn-of-the-century San Francisco as a fresh-faced, innocent 16-year-old girl fresh out of a Swiss convent school. Newly orphaned, Lily dressed in a frilly Annie type dress arrives at the fancy whore house run by her Aunt Rosalie played by the snappy Marie O’Donnell, who agrees to take in the niece she never knew. Decades pass and the young lady Lily falls in love with the bordello’s impoverished bookkeeper played by the keen Kalon Thibodeaux and raising their infant daughter alone after he’s killed in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. The Brothel is now gone "It's easy to find work for a piano player who can do ragtime and a hooker who does anal." Mickey and Emmy Lou are played by Adam KuveNiemann and Sakura Nakahara, and they both join her. Lily becomes a celebrated cabaret singer. J Conrad showed off his warm voice with a passionate original torch song, “Pirate Joe,” composed by Tom Judson.
Lily then falls under the charm of handsome, crooked Casino Lambert played by local favorite LaMont Ridgell, who self-knowingly introduces himself as “a shady character from a once prominent family”. Ridgell is snide and elegant in his vintage tux and delivers some of the best lines. As decades pass, Lily becomes a cabaret owner, a cathouse madam herself and a convicted criminal watching from afar the daughter she never knew rises in the world as an opera singer. Going to extremes to protect her from disgrace Busch shows off his love for the films Stella Dallas and I Want to Live! He is burning the Stanwyck at both ends. More melodrama, including murder, ensues. The elegant dapper Adam KuveNiemann plays Louis and others. O’Donnell also plays Lily's lost daughter in the second act and she is a scene stealer.
The craft team is all perfect Busch, including the wigs by the clever Deon and the lavish gowns on Frank by David Glamamore. Rudy V. Sogliuzzo created the costumes for the rest of the cast including capes for some of the men and over the top hats for the women. Set designer Alan Huang created a cat house nightclub background that has a nice shake during the 1906 quake. The SF Barbary Coast is clearly seen through the brothel's windows. Props by Tom O’Brien includes some vintage barware and the perfect infant doll sparkling under Elizabeth Boeckman’s lighting design. Her spot light crown when each actor ends a dramatic camp scene is hilarious. Sound designer Lana Palmer brings a nostalgic vibe to the dramatic camp moments. Stage managers Toni Lynn Guidray and Anthony Lopez kept the six member cast moving on and off stage. Sawyer’s direction is like a bright fruity cocktail as he keeps the wisecracks, camp cliches sharp.
Busch's script allows space for his characters to shine. O'Donnel delivers in her multiple roles, with her frenetic readings that include “Must everyone have a personality?” The fun takes us inside the cinema’s glory days, blessed with camp and a clever understanding of its source material. The Confession of Lily Dare offers as Lily says “entertainment that ranges from the ribald to the exquisite.” J Conrad Frank as always remains the main attraction. Charles Busch is truly the godmother of camp. See this if you can. Join Lily at the bar for a gin fizz.
New Conservatory Theatre Center Presents
THE CONFESSION OF LILY DARE
Written by Charles Busch
Directed by Allen Sawyer
Closes June 10th, 2023
New Conservatory Theatre Center
25 Van Ness Ave at Market Street, San Francisco, CA
Running time 2 hours with intermission
. Tickets and information at 415-861-8972 or www.nctcsf.org.
Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/nctcsf/
Photo's by Lois Tema