Dallas — A Divine Evening with Charles Busch, at the Wyly Theatre for only three more performances, is like hanging out with a performer friend while he tries out some new material. Very low key and casual, but with a splash of elegance.
Busch opens the show, which is presented in the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Off-Broadway on Flora series, with "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls, but quickly abandons it for selections more suited to his vocal range. He moves on to an energetic duet of "Road to Morocco" with his handsome musical director and accompanist, Tom Judson. You can't help but chuckle at song lyrics like "Like Webster's dictionary, we're Morocco bound."
Dressed in a black jumpsuit with a long, fringed sparkly tunic, heels, "statement jewelry" and a red wig, Busch is every inch the diva, not once going for drag camp. Busch could easily do the show without being in drag, but when you are as comfortable dressing and performing as a woman as Busch is, why deviate from what your fans expect?
The bare stage at the Wyly provides the perfect understated backdrop for Busch's more heartfelt songs, including a touching, heart-wrenching version of The Beatles' "For No One." The show's levity comes from his stories sprinkled with names like Paul McCartney, Audra McDonald, Patti LuPone and Kristin Chenowith. Busch also talks of his difficult childhood and his teen years being raised by his Aunt Lillian in Manhattan.
A highlight of the night is a character Busch created first in a monologue then used as the basis for the woman in his Tony-nominated play, The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. Miriam Passman is a performer of "dubious accomplishment" who talk-sings then relates a story about one of her students from her master class on cabaret performance at The Learning Annex that turns into a tirade on bullying.
Busch really is trying out new material with this outing, preparing for a new show called "The Lady at the Mic" that he's been invited to perform at the Lincoln Center early next year as part of the American Songbook series. The set list includes two Stephen Sondheim songs recorded in the 1980s by Judy Wilson, the late actress and singer dubbed the Queen of Cabaret. In prefacing the songs, Busch confessed, "I've never sung Sondheim before. I hear he's good."
For Busch's show, the Wyly attempts a transformation into a cabaret setting, but even with tables and chairs where the orchestra seating usually is, it's not the intimate setting that suits cabaret best. In Busch's words, "It's not terribly cuddly.”
Running at just about an hour, A Divine Evening with Charles Busch, is like spending time with an old friend. An elegant, funny, divine old friend. And there are a lot of worse ways to spend an evening.
» Our interview with Charles Busch