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Busch Drags Fabulously in Die Mommie Die!

He's funny, he's a very talented actor and wrote a Tony Award nominated Broadway show and looks absolutely fabulous in a many gowns. He is the multi-talented Charles Busch and he is appearing in his own creation, Die Mommie Die!, playing at the New World Stage on 340 W 50th Street.

Busch is the author and star of such plays as The Lady in Question, Red Scare on Sunset and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, which ran five years and is one of the longest running plays in Off-Broadway history.  His play, The Tale of the Allergist's Wife ran for 777 performances on Broadway and won Mr. Busch the Outer Circle Critics John Gassner Award and received a Tony nomination for Best Play.   He 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, Mr. Busch received a special Drama Desk Award for career achievement as both performer and playwright. Mr. Busch made his directorial debut with the film A Very Serious Person, which premiered at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, where it won an honorable mention.  He is also the subject of the documentary film The Lady in Question is Charles Busch.

I caught Busch's performance this past weekend and was mesmerized by his performance. So, naturally, I wanted to speak with him about the infamous Lady in Question:

TJ: Charles, it was so nice to meet you after the show. Who did you base the character of Angela on?

BUSCH: The character of Angela Arden is a composite of the sort of role Bette Davis or Joan Crawford or Susan Hayward would have played late in their careers in a suspense thriller in the 1960s'. I try to evoke these actresses without actually doing an impersonation. It's sort of an intellectual appreciation of their acting style.

TJ: Obviously, this show is something very near and dear to you. When did you write the show and how did you come up with the idea?

BUSCH: I wrote the play in 1999. I was going to be in LA filming Psycho Beach Party and I knew I'd only be shooting around ten days so it seemed safe to do a play at the same time. I had trouble coming up with an idea and then thought maybe I should base it on a classical work of literature. The ancient Greek myth of Clytemnestra came to mind and I thought it would be fun to do it the style of a 1960's suspense film.

TJ: It seems so effortless to you to create this person on stage. Do you have a special routine to prepare for each performance?

BUSCH: My only routine is that I go through all my lines every day before I get to the theatre, and then around a half hour before the show I go onstage and go through any section that I'm afraid I'll screw up. I'm always afraid of forgetting lines or stuttering on them.

TJ: When was the first time that you performed this character on stage and how was the audience reaction to the show?

BUSCH: I've been playing variations of my Angela Arden character since 1984. In all my plays, I tend to play an elegant lady who pulled herself up from a tough past. Not only am I influenced by watching a lot of old movies when I was growing up, but I was also raised my Aunt in New York City, who was an elegant lady who came from humble origins. I think my performances are very influenced by her personal style.

TJ: How would you describe this show to let audiences know what they are going to see?

BUSCH: Die Mommie Die! is a parody of 1960's thriller movies that might have starred Bette Davis or Joan Crawford, but I hope that while you're laughing, you might also find parts of it touching as well as genuinely suspenseful.

TJ: Any plans to take the show on the road after its NY run?

BUSCH: There is a possibility we might take the play to San Francisco, but I'm taking one day at a time.

TJ: So, how long have you been doing the drag roles?  I know you did a great movie, one of my favorites, Psycho Beach Party.

BUSCH: I've been writing myself female roles since I was in college at Northwestern University in the 1970's. For a number of years, I was a solo performer and played male and female roles but I always thought I was better in the female roles and when I started my theatre company, Theatre-in-Limbo in 1984 in the East Village, it was nice having other actors to play those male roles and I could focus on being a leading lady.

In the original play Psycho Beach Party, I played the young girl, Chicklet. When we made the movie in 2000, the producers and I both felt we should have a real young girl play that role and we were fortunate to find Lauren Ambrose. They wanted me in the film, so I wrote myself a new character, that of the police detective, Monica Stark.

TJ: I was also watching an episode of "OZ" recently. I could have sworn I saw you...

BUSCH: Yep, that was me. I played Nat Ginsburg on "OZ" for two seasons. My character was very ill from AIDS and also was on death row so I had a feeling I wouldn't be around for a third season. I was a big fan of that show and was thrilled when they asked me to be on it.

TJ: Any projects that you are working on now, aside from Die Mommie Die? Upcoming roles or new plays you are working on?

BUSCH: I have a new play called The Third Story which will premiere at the LaJolla Playhouse next year and I'll also be returning to Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor next summer to do one of my plays, not sure which. I love that theatre and my favorite kind of vacation is to perform a show in a beautiful resort town like Sag Harbor.

TJ: Now your show, The Tale of the Allergist's Wife was nominated for a Tony award. What was that like for you when you heard the news?

BUSCH: I was so thrilled by the commercial and critical success of The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. A very exciting day was when the marquee went up at the Barrymore Theatre. It was pouring rain and I looked at it from every angle of the street. It was wonderful to be nominated for Best Play and I was lucky that year that they had scenes from each of the nominated plays on stage and the playwrights got to introduce the segments. So I actually got to be on stage at Radio City Music Hall. I knew I didn't have a chance to win but during those last five seconds, you do hope for a miracle.

TJ: OK, I know a lot of people look up to you and admire your performances. What type of advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?

BUSCH: My advice is not to listen to too much advice, like "be sensible. That won't get you anywhere." I had to perform and I knew I was an odd type but it never occurred to me that things wouldn't ultimately work out. My big goal was to earn a living in the theatre and I'm very proud that I achieved that goal.

TJ: Alright, now our readers like to know a little bit more about the actor offstage, so here's some questions about some of your favorite things. How about telling us what is you Favorite Guilty Pleasure?

BUSCH: I'm addicted to reality TV. I've never missed a single episode of any season of "Survivor." I take it very seriously.

TJ: Who is your Favorite Female Vocalist?

BUSCH: Judy Garland. But among living singers, Marilyn Maye. Whenever she's playing at the Metropolitan Room, everyone should go see her.

TJ: And your Favorite Restaurant in NY?

BUSCH: Angus McIndoe on West 44th Street. The owner, Angus, is one of the most charming fellas in the world and the food is also terrific.

TJ: Do you have a Favorite Phrase?

BUSCH: I don't think I have one. I can be surprisingly inarticulate. I think I may perform my own work so I can have time to come up with and rehearse clever things to say.

TJ: And finally, if you weren't an actor/playwright, what would your profession be?

BUSCH: I would like to have a farm and make artisinal cheeses. I think that would be a wonderful life and maybe I'll someday do it.

Thanks again, Charles, for everything!  And you readers who want to have a wonderful and fun night out at the theatre, go to see Charles Busch's acclaimed comedy Die Mommie Die! in its Off-Broadway premiere at New World Stages (340 W. 50th St.). This limited Off-Broadway engagement ends on Sunday, February 17, 2008. The show runs 90 minutes and is recommended for ages 16 and up. The regular performance schedule is as follows: Tuesday through Friday evenings at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are now available by calling at 212-239-6200, or in-person at the New World Stages Box Office. So for now, ciao and remember, theatre is my life!

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