Drag diva Charles Busch is striking out in a new direction for his upcoming cabaret performances.
The Tony nominee and drag legend, who performed a number at the June 5 Feinstein’s/54 Below fifth anniversary show, told Playbill that he plans a full “coming out” party for the new persona in the same venue October 17–21, with an all-new show titled Charles Busch: My Kinda 60s, which he describes as “Charles Busch, Act III.”
The author and frequent star of four decades of classics including Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Psycho Beach Party, The Divine Sister, The Lady in Question, Charles Busch's Cleopatra, and the libretto to Taboo (as co-author), said he plans to perform in traditional male garb at future club appearances.
“What I love about cabaret—and it’s been a chapter in my life the last five years as cabaret performer—is just how intimate it is and just how true to yourself you have to be,” he said. “And, surprisingly, after 40 years in drag I can actually be myself and still be dressed as a lady. But at a certain point I was feeling about the drag, why am I doing it at all [in cabaret]. It seems so superfluous.”
For those who might be shocked at these plans, Busch hastens to reassure them. “I’m not giving up drag. Please make that clear! I still believe in it and it's what I do. In plays and movies ....I’ll still play female characters. That is what I do best. But in cabaret I like being just so true to my own persona.”
There is precedent. He pointed out that when he’s done benefits or personal appearances such as the Playbill Cruise tours, he has performed in trousers. “So it’s not that big of an adjustment.”
The author of Broadway’s The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife has been performing in drag since he was a student at Northwestern University. He once told The New York Times, “Playing a female role gave me a freedom of expression I had never known.... Drag for me was not an expression of outrage or even satire but came from a place of profound love and respect, not only for the great actresses of the past but also for the strength and beauty of the women in my family.”
Busch said he dipped his toe in the water earlier this year. “I tried it out one night a few months ago, at a small club, just to see whether I would like it, because maybe I wouldn’t like it. And I loved it! I just did my entire act exactly [as usual]. I didn’t change anything, which was kind of the point. Not to adjust it, but just do it. There was no difference except that maybe, in some ways, I felt a little freer. Isn’t that strange? ? I think I actually sang better because I was using more support for my voice.”
Busch said he hasn’t figured out what he will wear for the October gig at 54 Below, but “I have feeling it might be a tad androgynous anyway.”
He doesn’t wish to disappoint his long-term fans, and, in any case, he said, “Listen, what I call men’s clothes somebody else might call drag!”
He described Charles Busch: My Kinda 60s as “a whole new show,“ drawn on the music he remembers from his childhood, growing up in the 1960s. "They’re all songs from pop, Broadway, film, just an incredible and eclectic group of songs. I tried to pick songs that are somewhat familiar but not done to death.”
His set will include two Broadway songs, but not ones that will be familiar to a broad audience. He said they are songs “from the time when the Broadway theatre was changing. I do early Sondheim, ‘There Won’t Be Trumpets’ [from Anyone Can Whistle], then a very haunting song from Cabaret, ‘What Would You Do?’”
Tickets to Charles Busch: My Kinda 60s cost $30–$75, plus a $25 food/beverage minimum, and can be ordered by clicking here.