Bay Area Reporter :: 2019 LGBTQ Besties Artist of the Year: Charles Busch



by John F. Karr

Monday night is not a usual night to go out and see a show. Which means that we will all be free to meet at the Oasis on Monday April 8 to see Charles Busch in his brand new cabaret number.

Yes, but can he sing? This is what we wanted to know several years ago, when Charles came to town not as the star of a play he had written, but as the speaking and singing star of a cabaret tour. alone.

It turned out that he could indeed sing. Oh, he was neither the Broadway fan nor the pop diva who messes with his replacements after a concert in an arena. He was an intimate man with a sly spirit, sharing secrets with us. Her warm voice was hoarse a la Lauren Bacall, and also alluring. His path with the lyrics was personal. Critic David Hurst called Charles an “interpreter of character and diviner of emotion.” Charles might not know it, but he was on his way to becoming Mabel Mercer.

Charles Busch will open for Broadway in The Confessions of Lily Dare just days after his appearance in Oasis. Photo: Michael Wakefield

The show on that first visit was “My Kind of 60s”, a medley of Charles’s childhood songs. This time it’s “Native New Yorker”, a more distinctly autobiographical portion of tales and melodies that brings the story back to “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom”. As always, musical director and accompanist Tom Judson will be on hand. This is to the great advantage of Charles, and ours too, for the easy-going Mr. Judson is an impeccable musician, a charming duettist, and the friendliest company.

So. How does a thin, modestly expressed, androgynous young actor like Charles Busch launch a career in the theater? No role was written for such a person when Charles knocked on the stage door. “But I’m a pragmatic person,” he told me in a recent phone interview from his New York home, “and my goal wasn’t fame and fortune. It was to win. my life without doing temporary work So I was shocked when I saw Charles Ludlum at the age of 18 and realized that I could have a career by creating my own acting opportunity. “

Mr. Busch has been doing this ever since, and has authored and starred in over 25 plays. Two of them were filmed. “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” remains one of the oldest plays in Off-Broadway history. And mainstream success came when “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on Broadway in 2000, starring Linda Lavin, Tony Roberts and Michele Lee. Even without Charles in the cast, it lasted 777 performances and is the longest-running Broadway comedy in the past 25 years.

Pretty good for a drag queen. Oops, I have to watch this nomenclature. This can make Charles a little suspicious.

“In theatrical circles of the mid-1980s, being called a drag queen could be derogatory, implying that you were a non-professional drug smoker, and off the stage an extreme personality,” by which I think Charles meant flamboyant at all times. “I felt rejected when straight guys called me a drag queen.” Remember, this was a time when Charles Pierce maintained his (often rejected) dignity in his introduction to the straight world by insisting that he was not a drag queen but “a male actress”. Like Charles P., Charles B. also identified with the legitimate theatrical side of the equation. Not really a female impersonator or a drag queen, he explained to me, “I was just writing drag roles.”

No, Charles Busch and Tom Judson didn’t get married. It’s their Valentine’s Day gag card. Photo: Frédéric Aranda

“When I was in London, one angry young critic was harsh. Given the radical drag, he called me old-fashioned, too conservative.”

The question is moot at the moment, as Charles will not be playing drag for this Oasis show. After all, he presents his own life, not a dragster character. After playing his cabaret number for a while in the flirtation he was used to and expected by his audience, he felt a growing confusion. “I wasn’t sure why I was dragging,” he told me. “This picture didn’t match my material. And the first time I showed up out of the trail, I felt good. A more melted, androgynous number. A Salome with no veil at all. After all,” she announced. it imperiously, i won’t give up my eyeliner!

Charles remembered the days of the past. “Now I had read ‘Tales of the City’ and I was obsessed with playing San Francisco. It was like it was the Emerald City.”

Charles ended up at a benefit party at the Rhino Theater, then the city’s entry point for artists like Kate Bornstein and Justin Bond (as Mx. Justin Vivian Bond was then known). This led to a reservation at the legendary Valencia Rose, a former morgue turned into a cafe and cabaret. Charles, but also Marga Gomez, Tom Ammiano and Lea DeLaria, exploded from there. After all, it was after Stonewall and before AIDS. Explode, that’s what we did. Charles therefore had a long run there, living upstairs, next to the embalming room.

“Life in San Francisco was everything I hoped it would be. Meet people like Danny Nicoletta and Armistead Maupin, step into the world of Harvey Milk and dive into a relaxing hot tub, which transformed into a polished orgy. “

Of course, I wanted Charles to tell me how a “polite” orgy was going. Was it “Oh please, maybe you would be so kind as to pass the poppers” and “Thank you very much?” Charles remained quietly a mom, admitting only that it was, indeed, “very San Francisco.”

As for Monday’s reservation, Charles is enthusiastic: “I love the Oasis! I played at the Nikko Hotel once, and it’s good. But I feel more at home at the Oasis. It’s so unique in San Francisco.


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