BWW Interview: OC's Segerstrom Center Welcomes Charles Busch in THE LADY AT THE MIC

BWW Interview: OC's Segerstrom Center Welcomes Charles Busch in THE LADY AT THE MICMaking his Segerstrom Center for the Arts debut, Tony Award® nominee Charles Busch is bringing his unique and critically-acclaimed talents to the Samueli Theater March 9-11, 2017 as part of Segerstrom Center's Cabaret Series.

Entitled THE LADY AT THE MIC, Busch will enchant audiences in this intimate evening of songs and stories which he originally created for Lincoln Center's American Songbook series. Busch will be accompanied by longtime musical director Tom Judson where the artists will be paying tribute to extraordinary and much-missed women. This show is the perfect next chapter in a career that has made Busch one of the most sought-after cabaret acts in New York City.

Busch is definitely a multi-hyphenate: he is equally lauded for his work as an actor, a playwright (VAMPIRE LESBIANS OF SODOM, THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST'S WIFE), a novelist, a screenwriter, a director, and, of course, a drag legend. Over the past few years, Busch has happily added "vaudevillian" to the list as well.

Besides receiving a Tony nomination for Best Play for THE TALE OF THE ALLERGIST'S WIFE (which ran for 777 performances on Broadway), Busch also wrote and starred in the film versions of his plays, Psycho Beach Party and Die Mommie Die, the latter of which won him the Best Performance Award at the Sundance Film Festival. In 2003, Busch received a special Drama Desk Award for career achievement as both performer and playwright. He is also the subject of the acclaimed documentary film The Lady in Question is Charles Busch. He is a two time MAC award winner and has performed his cabaret act accompanied by Tom Judson in many cities including San Francisco, Palm Springs, Provincetown, New Orleans, Miami, Puerto Vallarta, London, Paris and New York. His first CD Charles Busch Live From Feinstein's/54 Below was recently released by Broadwayrecords.

Before Busch sashays into Costa Mesa, he agreed to answer a few questions from BroadwayWorld's Michael L. Quintos about the upcoming OC cabaret concert.

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Hi, Charles! Can you tell our readers a bit more about your upcoming cabaret show THE LADY AT THE MIC at Orange County's Segerstrom Center?

We're paying tribute to five extraordinary women I was privileged to know: Elaine Stritch, Polly Bergen, Julie Wilson, Mary Cleere Haran, and Joan Rivers. When I was first working out the show with my intrepid musical director Tom Judson, I wanted to keep the show extremely personal and view these women through the lens of my relationships with them. The challenge is not being self-aggrandizing and reducing these ladies of achievement to the "wind beneath my wings." The show is to serve them and, well... allow me to be adorable and fascinating.

Haha, of course! What are some of the songs we'll get to hear at the concert? Are there specific favorites from the set list that you just absolutely love performing for a live audience?

I tried choosing songs associated with these women that came out of my personal reminiscence and weren't on the nose. In the section on Elaine Stritch, I don't have the nerve to sing "The Ladies Who Lunch." Instead I sing Sondheim's "With So Little To Be Sure Of" which she sang in her last cabaret appearance at the Café Carlyle and Noel Coward's "Sail Away" from one of her early stage successes.

BWW Interview: OC's Segerstrom Center Welcomes Charles Busch in THE LADY AT THE MIC

This show was originally created for Lincoln Center's American Songbook series. What does it mean for you to take the show to the more, well... conservative-leaning Orange County, CA? Will there be new material added or created specifically for the concert here?

Should I be concerned? I hope not. I've played conservative cities before and never had a problem with the audience relating to me. Even though I'm in drag, I'm not a confrontational performer. The only adaptation I'm doing is that some in the audience may not be familiar with the late Mary Cleere Haran or even perhaps Julie Wilson. Cabaret performance is an ephemeral art. I've added a little bit of clarification, but that's all.

Luckily, theater in the OC is a safer space, so no worries necessary! So, as an accomplished author, writer, actor, singer, and drag artist-which for you is the easiest? And which one brings you the most joy?

I've come to learn that I really am the happiest when I'm deeply in the throes of writing a play. At a certain point, I just can't keep away from the computer. I'll go back four times a day, rewriting, editing, shifting things around. On the other hand, there is an entirely different kind of exhilaration in riding the wave of a responsive audience. All of your senses are heightened. You feel like you're shimmering and successfully walking a high tightrope.

Growing up, did you know early on that you were destined for a career in the arts?

From my earliest memory... I was hopelessly non-scholastic. I've never been able to function at my best in a classroom situation. I was invisible and received almost no encouragement from my teachers. And yet on my own at eleven years old, I was turning out three-act plays, screenplays and librettos to musicals.... all starring ME. Somehow, my teachers didn't think I was special. Fortunately, I was raised by a remarkable woman, my Aunt Lil, who thought my every creative effort was brilliant and worthy. That was ultimately more important.

That's wonderful that you had someone like that in your life. Along those lines, which artists were highly influential for you during your formative years? Was there a particular artist that helped convince you to take on this career path?

The playwright/director/actor Charles Ludlam was an enormous influence on me. I was lucky to have been exposed to his dazzling work at a crucial point when I was very young and confused at how I would ever pursue a traditional career in the theatre. When I saw how this brilliant innovator created his own company and his own aesthetic, it gave me a window into my future. I was also greatly inspired by reading about the career of the legendary 19th century French actress Sarah Bernhardt. She was another example of an artist taking her destiny into her own hands.

And you certainly have! So, full disclosure... I have a special place in my heart for the film versions of Psycho Beach Party and Die Mommy Die! In your opinion, what defines "good" and "bad" camp for you?

Well, there are many styles of camp humor. I don't want to pass judgment on what's good or bad. It's a matter of what amuses you. My particular style of genre parody is so close to its source material that it can be enjoyed as an example of the genre itself. I've played matinees composed of elderly women who didn't laugh much but seemed to have a marvelous time watching the play as if it was an old movie played on TCM. At a certain point in the performance when I cottoned to their response, I relaxed and enjoyed playing the melodramatic story for them.

BWW Interview: OC's Segerstrom Center Welcomes Charles Busch in THE LADY AT THE MICTo achieve your signature female look nightly, how long does it typically take from start to finish?

When I first started performing in drag, I took over an hour. During the long run of my first play VAMPIRE LESBIANS OF SODOM, I was confused about the time of a special holiday matinee and arrived at the theatre after half hour. I did my makeup in a frantic twelve minutes. And looked exactly the same. Since then, I come to the theatre early to be relaxed but my makeup is done in around twenty minutes. Even at a photo shoot, I prefer to do my own makeup. Some actors feel very Zen sitting in the chair, having someone meticulously work on them. It makes me jittery and restless. I'm also under the belief---and perhaps a delusion---that under the lights and from a distance, the audience can't make out the difference.

What are your hopes for the next generation of young actors and singers---particularly those in the LGBTQ community---hoping for similar success? Any sage advice for our young readers?

Cultivate aspiring talented colleagues of your own generation and pool your dreams together.

Sounds good! In light of the current mood of the nation... what, as an artist, are your personal hopes for this relatively new year?

I don't like to preach. I get turned off when I'm preached to. But I'd like to create work that as an example gives an audience a feeling of hope and an inspiration towards action. I suppose that's asking a lot from a cabaret act.

Art can certainly do that. Quickly... what is your pet peeve? And what instantly puts a smile on your face?

I'm not too keen on men spitting in the street, particularly when it lands on my shoe. A smile on my face? I'm a sucker for any cute animal video.

Okay... What is your guilty pleasure?

I have not missed a single episode of Survivor in all thirty-four seasons.

Wow! So, who do you want to play YOU in the "Charles Busch" film biography?

Eddie Redmayne in the first part and Judy Davis in the second.

That's awesome! And, lastly, can you think of a single word that perfectly describes how you typically feel right before the curtain goes up at any given performance?

Up to about a year ago, I would have said "Nauseated." But now, at the risk of sounding hopelessly sappy, I'd say "Share."

Follow Contributing Editor Michael L. Quintos on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

Photos courtesy of Charles Busch and Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

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Segerstrom Center for the Arts' presentation of Charles Busch: THE LADY AT THE MIC will play March 9 - 11, 2017 at Samueli Theater. Tickets available online at SCFTA.org, by calling (714) 556-2787 and in person at the Box Office at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. For more information, visit SCFTA.org.

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