by Joe Regan Jr.
Charles Busch, with his talented musical director/vocalist partner, Tom Judson, returned to 54 Below with an all new program called That Girl/That Boy, on Tuesday, July 14. Dressed in a stunning short red wig and a beautiful black dress, Busch opened with “One Note Samba” with lots of name dropping lyrics, breaking up the song to discuss his Facebook friends, the chat rooms online (including the derogatory comments that follow the praise). Busch tells of walking down the street when he saw a reflection of his younger self behind the store window. He walked into the store and decided to confront the clerk. The scene ends when the boy states “I hope I look as good as you do when I’m your age!” which devastates Busch.
Thus begins an autobiographical narrative. Busch in his first New York apartment befriends a witch in his building. This section is called “Charles and the Wolfe.” The witch curses him and her curse haunts him.
Interspersed between the songs are terrific comic monologues. He discusses his childhood: his mother died when he was five and he moved in, on Park Avenue, with his Aunt Lil, who loved flowers, especially African violets. This leads into a poignant version of “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here.”
Busch and Judson discuss their work on cruise ships and how they bonded when they did shore excursions together. Judson serenades Busch with “Summer Wind” and Busch counters with a touching “That Sunday, That Summer,” which he credits to Paul McCartney but was actually written by Joe Sherman and George David Weiss. It leads to his “relationship” with McCartney, which started with a play in the Hamptons in which Busch played a woman. McCartney complimented Busch on his legs (which Busch didn’t think was a compliment because of McCartney’s at-that-time one legged wife). Later there was a star-studded benefit at the Minskoff where Busch performed with Audra McDonald, Kristen Chenoweth, and many other Broadway stars. The surprise last guest star was McCartney. At the rooftop party Busch was standing at the doorway, being ignored, while all the others were surrounded by fans. Suddenly McCartney appeared, recognized him and greeted him by name. Suddenly all attention was on them and Busch was able to take him around and introduce him to the other stars.
Busch and Judson appeared in London and Paris this year. The stuffy manager of one club said the British were reserved and Busch would have to walk around and introduce himself to them rather than wait at the bar. The first person he greeted was Sir Ian McKellen who got up and took him around to every table, introducing him to the guests. In Paris he took special pains to learn a song in French but was dismayed to find that there wasn’t a single Parisian in the crowd, only Americans and a Bulgarian! But in perfect French he sang a wonderful Edith Piaf song, “La Vieux Piano.”
Suddenly Busch’s alter ego, Miriam Passman, was announced as appearing at Don’t Tell Mama! Passman, the Long Island matron, went into a tale about how one of her promising students rejected all her Great American Songbook suggestions and got her expelled from the Learning Annex! Miriam survives that betrayal and a rejection by her nephew, stating “no complaints, and no regrets” and gives us a strong “Here’s To Us.”
Busch loves New York City and starts his New York medley with Hair’s “Where Do I Go,” a grand performance, hitting all the high notes in his bass baritone. He moves into “New York State of Mind” and then winds up with “I Happen To Like New York,” returning at the end to a soaring “Where Do I Go.” A tour de force performance.
Busch loves the life-size Lucille Ball puppet at the Museum of the City of New York because it proves that a beautiful woman could be funny. Together Busch and Judson do a terrific arrangement of “Hey Look Me Over” with Busch doing all the comic dancing that Ball did on Broadway.
Busch’s final number is a song that he describes as one he came to late, but which was inspired by a puppet show his aunt performed for him. He sings a touching version of “The Rainbow Connection,” starting in the crook of the piano and then moving stage center for a strong finish.
Charles Busch: That Boy/That Girl repeats at 54 Below on July 16, 17, and 23. All shows at 7 PM. For tickets call 646-476-3551 or visit www.54below.com