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    Tour de Force

    By Jan Wahl–

    Tour de force is defined as a feat or display of strength, skill, or ingenuity. When I was but a wee lass, I saw Sammy Davis, Jr., at the Hollywood Bowl exemplify this. Later, Danny Kaye blew me away with his talent at the Greek Theatre. Then there was Ella Fitzgerald at Davies Hall, Hugh Jackman in his one man show at the Curran, Dolly Parton at Shoreline, Michael Feinstein everywhere … all amazing. I’m determined to see as many live performances as I can, a definite challenge right now, but thankfully streaming can be, if not nearly as good, at least a temporary substitute.  

    The other day I was a desperate woman. I needed showbiz laughs and diversion. My wonderful sister Susie in Oregon had just seen a terrific play called Buyer and Cellar, written by Jonathan Tolins. With some research, I found this one-man show had won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Solo Show and GLAAD’s Media Award for Outstanding Theatre. Susie’s high praise would have been enough, so off I was to stream this show. 

    By random coincidence, it turns out my friend and colleague J. Conrad Frank is the one-man star. This is the story of a struggling actor in Los Angeles who takes a really odd job. He works in a vast personal shopping mall on a gorgeous estate in Malibu. There were no customers except the lady of the house named Barbra Streisand. 

    One day, the lady herself visits one of the luxurious shops and the two begin to create a relationship. There are many themes at work in this tour de force, including the price of fame, a love of beautiful and unique things, and the oddest odd job imaginable.  Conrad plays all the roles, but never tries to imitate the Great One herself.  He just goes for the essence of character and style. I found myself so engaged that the time flew by and I had that joy of fine theatre. 

    Naturally, after seeing it, I had to give Mr. Frank a call.

    He told me for the San Francisco Bay Times: “I had done the show at the New Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco to great acclaim. The Oregon Contemporary Theatre asked for it during the pandemic. It’s a 90-minute show and I play six characters.  It was special to be back in Oregon since I graduated from university there. My father was a straight man of a certain generation who loved Streisand. As far as I know, Barbra has never seen the play, but most likely has sent people to see it.”

    He continued, “Aside from Barbra, it is fun to play the kind of butch housekeeper, and Jim Brolin, who gives me a chance to stretch myself by portraying a straight guy. The show is also about having everything but still feeling lost, relationships when one partner is living a dream and the other is jealous, the joy of creating one’s own reality if one has the means. That’s the best: that Barbra has the luxury of making choices and insisting on them. That’s inspirational.”

    I know Conrad because of another friend, the Countess Katya Smirnoff-Skyy. She is a divine Eastern European soprano who now sings “popera” while telling fabulous stories and wearing divine clothes. She is such fun and the invention of Conrad.

    “I, Conrad, was trained as a counter tenor but was bored with early music like Handel,” he shared. “It seems that everyone knows an Eastern European lady with stories about the famous and nearly famous, and since a drag show was beginning at Martuni’s, Katya was born.”

    “Katya loves Streisand, too,” he added. They met in the ’70s at 54. Katya will now be back at Martuni’s for the show the third Sunday of every month beginning February 20.  She also has a new show in June at Feinstein’s. Mr. David Glamamore makes her beautiful clothes, and Jan, I know you love her homages to Roz Russell, Mae West, and Norma Desmond. Katya is also fulfilling her duties as Crown Princess of the San Francisco Imperial Court and servicing her TikTok followers who refer to her as Auntie Katya.”

    Tour de force describes Conrad, Katya, the fabulous Donna Sachet, Jim Brochu, Sister Roma, Liam Mayclem, and all the others who have the courage and talent to take to the stage alone.               

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at www.janwahl.com

    Published on February 10, 2022