Review: THE CONFESSIONS OF LILY DARE at New Conservatory Theatre Center

With drag performances, zany plot, and an ensemble cast, the play is tailor-made for a night of light camp, cheap laughs, and an homage to early female roles.

By: May. 22, 2023
Review: THE CONFESSIONS OF LILY DARE at New Conservatory Theatre Center
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No one does sendups of old Hollywood camp and fallen women better than Charles Busch (Red Scare on Sunset) and The Confessions of Lily Dare piles the satire on thick in this madcap story of one woman’s rise and fall set in the backdrop of San Francisco’s bawdy and lecherous Barbary Coast. Originally starring Busch himself, who clearly honors the actresses and genre but finds the humor in the insaneness of the subject matter, the heavy burden of pulling this show off lies squarely on the shoulders of J. Conrad Frank, no stranger to drag performance.

Review: THE CONFESSIONS OF LILY DARE at New Conservatory Theatre Center
Adam KuveNiemann and J. Conrad Frank.

His Lily is, as most drag characters, larger than life and over-exaggerated. Good for mining laughs with wild eye gestures, vocal inflections, and embellished gestures. Frank understands Busch’s love of these time-honored actresses like Dietrich, Davis and Crawford and also finds the pathos of the characters adding a dimension that rises above mere caricature.

Review: THE CONFESSIONS OF LILY DARE at New Conservatory Theatre Center
J. Conrad Frank and LaMont Ridgell. 

The plot is wild and zany, with the doe-eyed innocent Lily coming to live with her Aunt in San Francisco who happens to be a notorious Madame. Winning over the geeky piano player (Adam KuveNiemann) and a prostitute (Sakura Nakahara) they become her lifelong friends and protectors.  Lily wants to sing opera but along the way falls in love, gets pregnant and her betrothed is killed in the 1906 earthquake.

Review: THE CONFESSIONS OF LILY DARE at New Conservatory Theatre Center
Adam KuveNiemann, J. Conrad Frank, and Sakura Nakahara.

She’s involved in scandal, sent to for a crime she didn’t commit and is forced to abandon her daughter Louise. Here Busch is refencing films like The Sins of Madelon Claudet  and the premiere tearjerker Madame X.  Lily becomes a drunken cabaret singer singing “Pirate Joe” ala Marlene Dietrich’s recalling of Kurt Weil’s “Pirate Jenny”.

The ensemble cast deliver delicious over-the-top performances: Marie O’Donnell as the no-nonsense Aunt Rosalie and Louise, the daughter searching for her birthmother, LaMont Ridgell as Casino Lambert, and Kalon Thibodeaux as Louis. The costumes by Ruby V Suglliuzzo and gowns for Frank by David Glamamore are divine. With its San Francisco setting, and our long history of drag, The Confessions of Lily Dare is tailor-made for a night of light camp, cheap laughs and an homage to the early female roles that defined an era.

The Confessions of Lily Dare continues through June 11th. Tickets can be purchased online at nctcsf.org or by calling (415) 861-8972.

Photo Credit: Lois Tema



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