Review Roundup: THE CONFESSION OF LILY DARE At Primary Stages
Primary Stages presents The Confession of Lily Dare, written by and starring Charles Busch (The Tribute Artist, You Should Be So Lucky) and directed by Carl Andress (The Divine Sister, The Tribute Artist).
Joining Busch in the cast of The Confession of Lily Dare is Nancy Anderson (Sunset Boulevard), Christopher Borg (Judith of Bethulia), Howard McGillin (The Phantom of the Opera), Kendal Sparks (Judith of Bethulia) and Jennifer Van Dyck (Judith of Bethulia).
Primary Stages celebrates their 35th anniversary with the newest work from one of their most frequent collaborators, legendary master of theatrical parody Charles Busch (best known to Primary Stages audiences from their productions of The Tribute Artist, Olive and the Bitter Herbs, and You Should Be So Lucky). Busch's newest play, The Confession of Lily Dare, tells the story of one woman's tumultuous passage from convent girl to glittering cabaret chanteuse to infamous madam of a string of brothels-all while hiding her undying devotion to the child she was forced to abandon. Directed by Busch's long-time colleague Carl Andress (The Tribute Artist, The Divine Sister), this comic melodrama celebrates the gauzy "confession film" tearjerkers of early 1930s pre-code cinema, such as The Sin of Madelon Claudet, Frisco Jenny, and Madame X,
The Confession of Lily Dare features set design by B.T. Whitehill, costume design by Rachel Townsend, lighting design by Kirk Bookman, sound design by Bart Fasbender, wig design by Katherine Carr, and original song and arrangements by Tom Judson. Mr. Busch's costumes will be designed by Jessica Jahn.
Tickets for The Confession of Lily Dare start at $80, with additional premium seating options offered. All tickets are available at PrimaryStages.org or by calling OvationTix at 212-352-3101. Group tickets are available by contacting 212-840-9705 x204.
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: With a story spanning several decades, Jessica Jahn's costumes and Katherine Carr's wig's have Busch suggesting screen gems like young Audrey Hepburn and the enticing Marlene Dietrich, but despite the genuine hilarity throughout, director Carl Andress keeps the actors grounded in sincerity, allowing us to experience how such tales, when told on the screen, enraptured those early talkie audiences so much that a production code was put into effect to make sure the public didn't sympathize too strongly with the tragically "fallen women" of the movies.
Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: A brightly fruity cocktail of wisecracks, hard knocks and cheap sentiment, The Confession of Lily Dare offers (as someone says of Lily's nightclub act) "entertainment that ranges from the ribald to the exquisite." Directed with aplomb by longtime Bush leaguer Carl Andress-with distinguished assistance from costumers Rachel Townsend and Jessica Jahn-this Primary Stages production features an excellent supporting cast: Jennifer Van Dyck and Christopher Borg, perfectly ripe in a variety of key roles, are buttressed by Howard McGillin as a louche swindler, Nancy Anderson as a loyal tart and Kendal Sparks as a light-loafered saloon pianist. But Busch, as he should be, remains the main attraction. See him if you can. They don't make them like this anymore, fellas, and maybe they never will.
David Finkle. New York Stage Review: What he knows is that the melodramatic saga he's unfolding is sufficiently self-explanatory and that what he's going to do with it will be amusing in its own right. As he indulges in the free-form spoofing-"wallows" is probably too gooey a word for him-others will simply enjoy the ride. And if they pick up on other celluloid influences, all the better-unforgettables such as Stella Dallas (1925, 1937) with its self-sacrificing mother element. (Who out there recalls Barbara Stanwyck's 1937 Stella watching her daughter's swanky marriage through a rain-doused window?)
Michael Sommers, New York Stage Review: While this all may sound like a promising story to feature the author's trademark comical blend of mock melodramatics and camp humor in the manner of his immortal The Lady in Question and Times Square Angel, somehow The Confession of Lily Dare proves to be not nearly as much fun as it should be. The period wisecracks are surprisingly few and mostly feeble (although keep an ear out for a nice All About Eve gag). The narration that links and frames the episodic piece tends to be flat.
Jesse Green, The New York Times: You could call this camp heaven, and indeed "Lily Dare," a Primary Stages production, offers both the euphoria and the shabbiness that term can suggest. As in earlier works like "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom," which ran for five years Off Broadway, Busch doesn't fuss over logic or continuity. Here, he simply lets Mickey and Emmy Lou, visiting Lily's grave decades later, escort the story from scene to scene with bald narration. The visual transitions are likewise written the way they would be in a movie, begging for quick dissolves that can't be achieved and leaving us to twiddle our thumbs while the stage crew resets the furniture.
Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: The playwright and star, now 65, seems less interested these days in shock value. This effort, although it has its share of outrageous lines ("There's always work to be found for a piano player who knows ragtime and a hooker who does anal," one character informs us), feels more decorous than many of his previous works. At times, it's played so straight you almost forget you're watching a parody and become emotionally caught up in the plight of its tragic heroine. Busch invests his characterization with genuine depth of feeling that makes clear his profound affection for the vintage films that provide its inspiration.
Thom Geier, The Wrap: By now, Busch has honed his routine, eliciting laughs from even throwaway lines with a drop in his vocal register or a well-timed eyebrow raise. And the rest of the cast - which also includes Christopher Borg playing everything from a baron to an Italian opera director to an Irish priest - matches him in a tone that remains broadly comic without ever veering into spoof. Busch's longtime collaborator Carl Andress directs with cinematic panache and a nice sense of pacing, aided by Rachel Townsend's striking costumes and B.T. Whitehill's evocative set.