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The Confession of Lily Dare, Paddington Gets In A Jam

Posted 2/3/2020

Confession of Lily Dare reviewed  by Fern Siegel for

Charles Busch, queen of camp and master of drag, counts legions of fans enamored of his homages to Hollywood melodramas and bygone 1930s and 1940s movie stars, like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. His latest show, The Confession of Lily Dare off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theater, is Busch at his theatrical best.

 Borrowing the themes of Frisco Jenny, Madame X and The Sin of Madelon Claude, part of the mother-sacrifices-for-daughter film genre, Busch plays Lily Dare, a convent-educated girl whose roller-coaster ride from young innocent to bordello madam packs comedy and pathos.

He is also blessed with an excellent supporting cast in a variety of roles: Kendal Sparks, Christopher Borg, Nancy Anderson, Jennifer Van Dyck, and Howard McGillin.

Busch has the ability to combine class and vulgarity — and that exaggerated duality underscores his humor and adds sizzle to his shows. He’s also adept at stylized physical comedy — a curl of the lip or a toss of the head speaks volumes. Those qualities are on display in the character of Lily Dare.

The turn-of-the-century show opens with a teenage Lily in the Swiss Alps, fluent in four languages. But when her mother dies, she’s sent to live with her Aunt Rosalie, a madam in a San Francisco brothel (a versatile Jennifer Van Dyck). There she meets piano player Louis (Borg) and Emmy Lou (a sassy Anderson), who narrate Lily’s story.

Lily has a child by the loving Louis, but their plans to marry go awry, setting in motion a series of events that transform impoverished Lily into a cabaret star, aided by Blackie Lambert (McGillin), a wily underworld figure from a prominent family. When Blackie offers Lily a Fabergé egg, she agrees to accept “a small one. To be polite.”

But Lily’s fate isn’t a pretty one — and the sacrifices she makes, and the secrets she keeps — make for an entertaining and singular tearjerker. Busch’s longtime director Carl Andress makes the most of his talented cast, aided by Jessica Jahn’s costumes for Busch. B.T. Whitehill’s set design, Rachel Townsend’s costumes, Kirk Bookman cinematic lighting, original song by Tom Judson and Katherine Carr’s wonderful wigs serve Busch’s clever parody well.

Busch has been a New York theater regular for decades, beginning at the Limbo Lounge in the late 1970s. He also received a 2001 Tony nomination for best play for Takes of the Allergist’s Wife. Fans will revel in The Confession of Lily Dare — its memorable one-liners and over-the-top moments are vintage Busch.

On the children’s theater front, a much gentler performance, Paddington Gets in a Jam, created and directed by Jonathan Rockefeller, is at the DR2 Theater. Here, the marmalade-loving bear tries to help his arrogant neighbor Mr. Curry (A.J. Ditty), but his best intentions go awry.

Curry is expecting a visit from his Great Aunt Matilda, and Paddington offers to get things ready. Instead, the kind but rather clumsy Paddington wrecks havoc in the four-room house, designed by Peter R. Feuchtwanger and David Goldstein. From pipe mishaps in the bathroom to a cake disaster in the kitchen, Paddington turns even the simplest chore into chaos — to the delight of his young audience.

Still, part of Paddington’s charm, which has entertained children since 1958, is his good intentions. He manages to make even ill tempered Aunt Matilda (Jess Bulzacchelli) smile, something she has never done before.

The unfailingly polite Paddington, star of books and movies, has now made his 60-minute theatrical debut. It’s charming and sweet, much like its lead. Let’s hope it’s the first of many.