Charles Busch Revisits Musical ‘The Green Heart’ at Bay Street New Works Festival

Charles Busch Revisits Musical ‘The Green Heart’ at Bay Street New Works Festival

Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts presents the 2nd annual New Works Festival from April 24 to 26. Dubbed “A Festival of Rediscovery,” the weekend will include staged readings of new works by various emerging and established playwrights, as well as a revised version of a 1997 musical by Hamptons regular Charles Busch.

The Green Heart, written by Busch with music and lyrics by the late Rusty Magee and based on the short story by Jack Ritchie, is a dark musical comedy about money, botany and love.

“This is about a wealthy playboy who’s run through his inheritance,” Busch explains. “In desperation, since he has no skills, he decides to marry a rich woman. So he chooses this impossibly nerdy, shy heiress who’s a botanist. The plan is to marry her and murder her. It is a musical and it’s very funny!” The story the play is based on was also adapted into the film A New Leaf, directed by and co-starring famed playwright Elaine May. “Our show is based on the story rather than the screenplay,” Busch says. “At the time, we couldn’t get the rights to the movie script, so we based it on the short story, which is quite different. Ultimately it was for the best. I did meet Elaine May later on, and she said, ‘Oh, if I would have known!’” Walter Matthau also starred in the film.

Busch is looking forward to revisiting the production with his frequent artistic collaborators. “My friend Carl Andross—who has directed most of plays through the years—was my assistant on The Green Heart and always loved it. In the past few years or so, he’s determined to see it live again. He’s done some good work on it. And [Bay Street Artistic Director] Scott Schwartz has a real fondness for the show.”

Readings usually have minimal staging, with actors reading from scripts and music. “It’s a tricky show to cast because the music is a little complex and the script has a real strong book and requires some real comic planning. It’s very likely that we’ll have four days of rehearsal for this reading,” Busch says. While he doesn’t anticipate any large-scale changes to the show, he notes, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we found some things to fix. It’s a complicated show.”

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In addition to the staged reading at Bay Street, Busch has been working on several other projects, including a memoir. “It’s a book about my aunt, who raised me,” he says. “I’m also working on an anthology of monologues and scenes from my plays.”

Busch is continuing his painting and drawing work, for which he has been getting more and more recognition. “Exactly a year ago, Turner Classic Movies [TCM] had a promotion for their 20th anniversary and commissioned 20 celebrities to contribute their drawings. I joked that I was the only one I’d never heard of! So I did this pastel drawing that I liked a lot.” Prints of Busch’s piece can be purchased on broadwaydesignexchange.com.

A frequent Bay Street collaborator, Busch is excited to revisit The Green Heart at the New Works Festival. “I love Bay Street Theater. I’ve done a lot of plays there. Last summer I did my act there,” he says, noting that he’s worked there many times and in many capacities over the years. “I’ve seen ’em come and I’ve seen ’em go. We did The Lady in Question and Paul McCartney came! All the extraordinary people.”

The staged reading of The Green Heart at the 2nd Annual New Works Festival will performed on Saturday, April 25, at 3 p.m. at Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor. A reception and panel discussion will follow at 7 p.m. For tickets and more information, call 631-725-9500 and go to baystreet.org.

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