Reviews
The Charles Busch Revue


THE NEW YORK TIMES, SATURDAY, MAY 22, 1993


Charles Busch on Drag and 'Dragnet'

By
STEPHEN HOLDEN

One of the funniest bits in “The Charles Busch Revue,” a playful if ramshackle parody of the old “Carol Burnett Show,” is a delirious spoof of the kind of quasi rock-and-roll production number that was a staple of television variety shows in the 1960’s.  To the melodramatic strains of “Town Without Pity,” Mr. Busch impersonates a slithery teen-age tramp, glued into a skin-tight red vinyl dress, who is accidentally killed while being fought over by two leather-jacketed youths.

As in his plays like “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” and “The Lady in Question,” the skit illustrates Mr. Busch’s skill at taking pop kitsch and using drag to give it several extra jolts of silliness.  Among New York’s drag performers, he is certainly the most congenial.  Instead of freezing into imperious diva like poses and spewing hostile sexual challenges, he is a man who revels in the opportunity to get himself up in drag, the more flamingly tacky the better, and create a party around it.

When he was younger, Mr. Busch tells the audience, he once dressed up as Mick Jagger for a Halloween party but got carried away while putting on makeup and emerged looking more like Ann Blyth.  To masculinize him, he recalls, his father insisted he watch “Dragnet.”  His bored response: “Is that all there is to being butch?”

In his 75-minute revue, at the Ballroom (253 West 28th Street, Chelsea) through May 30, the costumes run from a red sequined evening dress topped with a flaming red-orange wig, to a sinister metallic get-up for the role of the evil stepmother in “Snow White.”  In Mr. Busch’s politically correct takeoff on Walt Disney, Snow White (Denise Nolan) tells her story of being sheltered by “seven vertically challenged people of the rainbow tribe.”  When the evil stepmother entices her with a poisoned apple, she refuses to eat it because it has been sprayed with a pesticide.  She goes on to lecture her nemesis on age-ism and sexism.

Not all of the show is this smart or funny.  A production number saluting the Unites States Navy, in which Mr. Busch plays a Marlene Dietrich-like siren, seems awfully tame in view of the current debate about homosexuals in the armed forces.

But even when the material is less than scintillating, the show, which was directed by Kenneth Elliott and features Ms. Nolan, a talented comic performer with a vocal honk reminiscent of Ethel Merman, remains consistently charming and ebullient.