3 Drinks and a Chanteuse

Thursday I headed over to 54 Below and caught Charles Busch's cabaret show That Boy/That Girl.  And since the last time I'd gone out to the theatre with my dear friend Leslie I was nearly thirty minutes late, this time I gave myself plenty of time to get there.  We had a 6PM dinner reservation, and I was heading down the stairs at 5:40, and this time Leslie was running late.  But I didn't mind, I just sauntered on in, took my seat, ordered a vodka soda, and took in the setting.

It feels very posh and expensive, all red and gold, drapey and dim.   It's what a friend of mine used to call "chi-chi poo poo", which I've since made my own (and that's "ch" as in chic, not chick).

It won't surprise you to know there were a lot of queens in this place.    They started filling in and making jokes to the hosts "Can I get you anything tonight?"  "Yes, you can get me that hunk of a driver in delivery truck outside!" There was a lot of name dropping and , and I of course loved it.  What I wouldn't have given for super human hearing.

Pretty soon Leslie arrived, we ordered, the lights dimmed, and out stepped Charles Busch.   I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive.  I had discovered Charles Busch when I was in my early twenties and I stumbled across a copy of his play The Lady In Question, a parody of 1940's classic war propaganda films.  It focused on a beautiful, but self centered violinist, who was not interested in politics and was traveling through Europe on a musical tour.  Charles had written the part for himself, and the photos in the book showed, not a clown, but a glamorous leading lady type.  That play opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me, because it said you could do drag, and in your own way, with your personal observations as a man who loves them, raise up the female stars and archetypes of that era for reexamination and praise.  

I'd played a couple of women myself at that point, and was always upset by or dismissive of the one's who played women in order to mock them, or to wear a kind of mask that allowed these performers to loosen their anger- to be a bitch.  I wanted to step into their shoes for awhile and show the person within, not to mock, but to pay tribute, and to highlight the ridiculousness in ALL of us, as people.  
Here was someone who seemed to be doing that, and doing it very well.

After that, I read all of his plays, saw all of his films, and watched a fascinating documentary entitled The Lady In Question Is Charles Busch, which follows his career and his art, and captures his essence as well as anything else I've seen.  Suffice it to say, he's kind of an artistic hero of mine, and heroes have been known to topple.  

I needn't have worried.  He is a charming raconteur, a delicate interpreter of music and lyrics, and he has a wonderful way of playing the drama behind a song, playing the opposite of the meaning that might have originally been intended to bring new depth.  He's not mawkish, or artificial, but true and authentic.  He's steeped in the femininity of this character, and his/her sensitivity.  And he has such a sharp, crisp humor delivered with dead pan technique.  It's a very intimate show, a show in which you are let into the heart and soul of a person, bravely and adeptly.  Leslie, who was not as familiar as I was with his work, said that within moments of his arriving on stage she knew she was in good hands.  I couldn't have said it better.

There's one last chance to see That Boy/That Girl on July 23rd.