NY Music/Theater Review by Eric J. Grimm
It is wonderful to see Charles Busch, the legendary female impersonator and writer of plays that would merit his own Netflix category called “Kitsch Parodies with Strong Female Leads,” still going strong. His best known work is The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife; my favorite is Psycho Beach Party, a murderous send up of sixties surf movies.
Busch and longtime musical director Tom Judson have created a cabaret for 54 Below that pays tribute to the women he idolizes in true biting Busch fashion. Some of the serious musical numbers seem a bit miscalculated, but Busch’s original bits are sharp and side-splitting.
Sporting his trademark ginger wig and speaking with a deliciously haughty speech impediment, Busch, 59, is settling gracefully into the grand dame role that so many queens have lovingly parodied. Busch pays homage to classic screen divas and cabaret performers with varying degrees of success. His takes on songs by Oscar Hammerstein and Rufus Wainwright are surprisingly boring for a performer who can reduce an audience to giggling tears with a simple look or gesture. Busch and Judson might have done better with more comic numbers, though they do a touching duet of Michel Legrand’s theme from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
Busch is at his best when he’s doing original comedic material. Highlights of the show include a dramatic reading of uncensored interviews with Joan Crawford and Bette Davis and a Body Snatchers-esque diary entry about a visit to a Rite Aid. Busch is a gifted storyteller and would make an excellent memoirist. These
raucous comic segments show that he continues to be an exciting comic talent in a class of his own.
Charles Busch is performing at 54 Below July 9-12. Tickets available at http://54below.com/artist/charles-busch/ (646) 476-3551 254 West 54 Street (Cellar), NYC