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'Bricktop and Comstock' brings two late West Virginians to life on stage

WANT TO GO?

"It Matters Where You're Buried (Bricktop and Comstock)"

WHEN: 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Clay Center Walker Theater

COST: Free (advance tickets at Taylor Books; some also available at door)

INFO: www.festivallcharleston.com

NOTE: 200 tickets are available per show

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "It Matters Where You're Buried (Bricktop and Comstock)" is the tale of a West Virginia woman, little known in her home state, of international acclaim. It is also the story of the man intrinsic to saving her legacy: Jim Comstock, the late editor of The West Virginia Hillbilly newspaper.

Ada "Bricktop" Smith was born in Alderson, the daughter of a black mother and an Irish father. She arrived in the world with the startling red hair that earned her her nickname -- a name that would go on to serve as the moniker of her many international cabarets.

After her father's death at an early age, her mother moved the family to Chicago where a young Bricktop became fascinated with black vaudeville. She worked her way through the ranks of the performing world, coming into contact with people like Cole Porter and Duke Ellington.

Because of the rising racial tensions in the States, she eventually decided to move her livelihood to Europe, where she opened her first cabaret in Paris, hosting celebrities and royalty like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. She later moved on, opening clubs in places like Rome and Mexico City, always drawing a crowd with her intimate style and discretion.

Eventually, she came back to the States and settled in New York, where she died in 1984.

During her tenure in European society, Comstock became intrigued with her West Virginia roots. Writing often about her in his newspaper, Comstock would eventually promise the aging Bricktop to find her body and relocate it to the cemetery in Alderson where her family is buried.

"She is probably one of the most remarkable West Virginians ever to live, but for Jim Comstock, she would have gone unremembered. This play will bring her to life," said area attorney and historian George Daugherty.

Daugherty will portray Comstock when a staged reading of the play, written by West Virginian Beth Campbell, is performed twice on Saturday. Shayla Leftridge, who has performed with the Charleston Light Opera Guild in "Dreamgirls" and "The Color Purple," will star as Bricktop. 

The play takes place after Bricktop's death, in a heavenly re-creation of her famous nightclub. It has only three characters: Bricktop, her pianist (played by Mark Parsons) and Comstock.

Daugherty said the play has cabaret-style seating, and people can expect to feel like they are swept back in time, experiencing Bricktop's cabaret as it was in its heyday of the Roaring '20s. It will be "a re-creation of the famous Bricktop's in Paris."

Although there is a discussion at the beginning of the play between Bricktop and Comstock regarding his promise and inability to fulfill it before his death, Daugherty said the audience can expect a true musical experience with lots of nostalgic tunes from the time.

Later this year, Bricktop will be inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. FestivALL director Larry Groce said, "It is important to bring attention to Bricktop now, as part of the West Virginia Sesquicentennial. This is a West Virginia play about West Virginia people."

Reach Autumn D.F. Hopkins at autumn.hopkins@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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