Song & Stage

Charles Busch’s “My Kinda ’60s” Sashays its Way to Bay Street Theater

Get to know the real Busch, from childhood stories to fave '60s songs.

Charles Busch is returning to Bay Street Theater for a special evening of story and song on Monday, August 13 at 8 p.m. The show, called My Kinda ’60s, will feature the legendary Busch in a cabaret-style performance drawing on stories from his childhood and his favorite songs from the 1960s.

“I’m coming back—they can’t keep me away,” laughs Busch, whose involvement with Bay Street began in 1994. “I love my memories of Bay Street,” he continues, noting that he was on hand in 1998 as part of an “eccentric group of entertainers” assembled for the naming of the main stage after Elaine Steinbeck. Included in the eclectic lineup along with Busch were Roddy McDowall, Elaine Stritch, Edward Albee and E.L. Doctorow, among others.

Busch’s career in theater stretches back into the late 1970s, when he began making a name for himself as a female impersonator. Then, partly as a way to provide himself with appropriate star vehicles for his various drag personae, Busch began writing his own shows, several of which ran in Off-Broadway theaters. These shows are considered camp classics. Starting in 1985, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom ran for five years at the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village. The follow-ups Psycho Beach Party and Die, Mommie, Die! were both made into popular films after successful theatrical runs. Busch’s biggest mainstream success has been The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, which ran for a more than respectable 777 performances on Broadway.

My Kinda ’60s is a very personal show, says Busch. “It’s about growing up in New York City living with my Aunt Lillian,” he says. “My mother died when I was seven, and Aunt Lillian really sort of adopted me and saved my life.” In a show that he says is about 30% talk and 70% music, Busch harnesses his skills as a storyteller to talk about his teen years with his beloved Aunt Lillian during the turbulent decade of the ’60s.

As for the musical selections, Busch is quick to credit his accompanist Tom Judson with doing the initial work. “Tom has an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music,” says Busch. Judson compiled a list of great songs from the ’60s, from Broadway to rock to pop. “We went through them and picked out the ones we liked best,” says Busch. Included are songs by Sondheim, the Beatles, and Burt Bacharach, among others. “My favorite thing is singing songs that I can really act,” says Busch.

Speaking of acting, the question everybody wants to ask is—will Busch be performing My Kinda ’60s in drag?

“I used to do it in full drag,” says Busch. “It might sound funny, but I felt I was able to ‘be myself’ in drag.” However, Busch was open to change. “I tried doing it ‘normal,’ but eventually I had a costume designer make me a men’s suit out of green paisley.” Busch describes the result as a cross between Bruno Mars and Susan Heyward—an intriguing sort of middle ground, one might say.

Busch has been exploring the world of cabaret for about 6 years now. “It’s become a big part of my life, my new career as a cabaret artiste,” Busch says. As he’s experimented with different ways to structure a cabaret—for example, he’s discovered it’s much easier to build a show around a group of songs than it is to shoehorn songs into an existing story—he’s learned a lot about music and singing. He’s also learned the power of authenticity. “You really have to know yourself and project an honest view of yourself,” Busch says. “The audience deserves that when they’re spending an evening with you.”

So why not spend an evening getting to know the real Charles Busch at Bay Street?

At press time, some tickets were still available to see Charles Busch perform at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor on Monday, August 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets $59 to $89 at baystreet.org and 631-725-9500.

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