That Girl/That Boy
Rockwell Table & Stage, Los Angeles, CA, March 13, 2017
Reviewed by Elliot Zwiebach for Cabaret Scenes
Charles Busch is a hoot — and a very talented performer. And what an actress he is! Whether singing or dishing about his life or celebrities he has known, he is always, always the epitome of entertainment and class.
Though he’s dressed in full drag, he sings in his own natural register, a lovely, deep voice that gets to the heart of the emotion in each song — mostly deeply dramatic ballads that he acts beautifully. And when a song pitch escapes his range, he speaks the lyrics in a gentle, sincere, effective way.
Performing before a wildly enthusiastic audience, Busch was mesmerizing on a Sondheim mash-up that combined “With So Little to Be Sure Of” and “Too Many Mornings.” He was also fully invested in the complex “Surabaya Johnny” (Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht) — his favorite song, he said — moving smoothly through its shifting moods and tempos.
Speaking about his childhood and an aunt who helped him come into his own, he was extremely moving in a pair of songs in which he likened himself to a flower, as he described his struggles to survive as someone who was different: a heartfelt “What a Lot of Flowers” (Leslie Bricusse, from the score of the musical film Goodbye, Mr. Chips) combined with a slowed-down, poignant “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here” (Burton Lane/Alan Jay Lerner, from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever).
Busch was ably abetted throughout the evening by his musical director, Tom Judson, who served not only as piano accompanist, but also fellow singer. Their voices blended beautifully on a pair of 1960s movie ballads by Michel Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman: “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” and “I Will Wait for You,” the latter featuring a strong arrangement that shifted different sections of the song into an effective harmony.
In a much lighter vein, the two combined for an amusing “Road to Morocco” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke) and performed “Hey, Look Me Over” (Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh, from Wildcat) with the same contrasting lyrics and melody used in the show.
On his own, Busch offered a moving take on “Those Were the Days” (American lyrics by Gene Raskin from a Russian melody by Boris Fomin), reflecting on how catchy the tune seemed in the 1960s but, by slowing the tempo, adding reflective, nostalgic resonance for him in the present. His encore was a sincere “Rainbow Connection” (Paul Williams/Kenny Ascher) — another selection Busch said he thought was lighthearted when he first heard it, but which he said now offers hope.