by Steve Nardoni
Feinstein’s/ 54 Below, whether by design or not, seems to attract wonderful artists who are so comfortable in this supper club/cabaret that they blossom. Charles Busch is no exception. This multi-talented playwright (Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife), actor (Die, Mommy, Die; Auntie Mame) female impersonator, Tony nominee, Drama Desk honoree and MAC award winner gleefully deigned to bless us with a showcase of his voice, acting chops, storytelling and humor.
Because the show was touted as My Kinda 60’s, the assumption was that Busch would enter in full female regalia dressed as a compilation of female singers of the 1960’s. Our expectations were immediately blown away by his arrival onstage sans drag and then justifiably thrilled by his upbeat interpretations of “Your Zowie Face” (from the 1967 spy movie In Like Flint) and “Look at that Face” (from the 1965 musical Roar of the Greasepaint – Smell of the Crowd). Mr. Busch then spent the evening singing pop and Broadway songs featured from the 1960’s, while sketching out stories of his childhood and adolescence under the tutelage of his Aunt Lillian ( Yes, it amazingly mirrored the autobiography of Patrick Dennis, author of Auntie Mame). But Busch recognized that this schematic of life lessons affecting creativity may be shopworn for this crowd. With a significant pout he quipped “Self-aggrandizement is the meat and potatoes of cabaret.”
The crowd roared, and we were off to the proverbial races!!!
Next, from 1964, he sang “Anyone Who Had a Heart” and justifiably touted Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach and Hal David for that classic. He and musical director/pianist Tom Judson sang a lilting duet of the 1967 “Two for the Road,” movie theme by Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse. Peppered throughout the songs were his hilarious stories of life with the indomitable Aunt Lillian, whose administrations and care of Charles molded an introvert into a stunning performer, as well as fun at the expense of Patti LuPone and Kristin Chenoweth.
His song list included an interesting range of types from the 1960’s: the Beatles (“Here, There, and Everywhere), Jimmy Webb (“By the Time I get to Phoenix”) and Sondheim (“There Won’t Be Trumpets”). He declared, and rightfully so, that even the upbeat songs all shared the melancholy of the times. “What Would You Do,” a song from Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret (cut from the movie version) was downright hauntingly evocative, a wisp of Nazi Germany reaching out to the current times in America:
“With a storm in the wind,
What would you do?
Suppose you’re one frightened voice
Being told what the choice must be.
Go on; tell me, I will listen.
What would you do? If you were me?”
The next song: Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are A-Changing” – – Perfect. They are.
Busch wrapped up his fun-filled but poignant tribute with the rousing “Those Were The Days” (Gene Raskin and Boris Fomin) Audience participation was expected and we delivered.
Remaining shows: Oct. 20 and 21 at 7 pm. 254 West 54 Street (cellar)