When playwright, screenwriter and performer Charles Busch takes the stage, he frequently dons make-up, heels and a wig. But, don’t mistake the creator of camp classics “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” and “Psycho Beach Party” for any old drag queen.
“Certainly, my career has been as a playwright, writing roles for myself,” he explained over the telephone from his home in New York, “and most of those roles have been female characters, which necessitated me dressing in drag. But, in every play, I have a different character. I’m not a performer with a persona and a stage name.”
Busch will be bringing his latest cabaret show to Miami Beach on Sunday, May 31 for one performance at Edison Farrow’s Cabaret South Beach.
“This cabaret thing is pretty recent, I’ve tiptoed into it over the past two or three years,” said Busch, who collaborated with music director Tom Judson on a show that includes musical performances from the “Great American Songbook” and lots of stories from his illustrious, four-decade career. He aims to give audiences the illusion of sitting in his living room enjoying a lively conversation.
“When I started developing this act, I asked, who am I at this particular part of my life? I’ve been feeling a need to be as unguarded and honest as possible. Since my audience enjoys seeing me in drag, how can I accomplish that?” he added.
Busch became fascinated with Hollywood and the “pantheon of great actresses” of the ‘30s and ‘40s while still a young boy.
“I could go into all sorts of amateur psychology about why that is. My father loved old films and I shared that with him at a very young age,” recalled Busch. “My mother died when I was seven and I was a product of a completely permissive childhood.”
At the age of 12, Busch moved to Manhattan to live with his Aunt Lillian, who he described as “a character in one of those old movies, one of those elegant, noble, embattled women.”
As Busch developed many of his signature characters, he paid homage to Bette Davis, Norma Shearer and his Aunt Lillian, a bit of “profound pop psychology” in his words.
“I’m just able to dial it up. The person on stage is me, but if I was an old television set, I’d dial up the contrast and the brightness,” Busch said.
He then elaborated, “All my life, I’ve been a very creative person. My greatest love affair has been with my own imagination. Sometimes I get very angry at that lover. It’s failed me at times, but I come back to him.”
The film adaptations of his plays have been among his proudest achievements: “At least this week, it’s looking very good that I might make another. You got me on a good week. Who knows about next week?”
Busch, who also wrote the hit Broadway comedy “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” and numerous “straight” one man shows, is enjoying the break from theater his cabaret tour affords. Touring the plays has not always been economically feasible, so he has relished the opportunity to take the new musical act across the country and to Europe.
“We’ve been everywhere. I don’t want to come off ‘too Norma Desmond’, but it’s been wonderful meeting fans around the world,” he said.
Charles Busch stars in “A Divine Evening with Charles Busch” at the Cabaret South Beach, 233 12th Street in Miami Beach, at 8 p.m. on Sunday, May 31. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and there is a two-drink minimum. Tickets are $40 at TheCabaretSouthBeach.com.