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For the last review of my trio of 54 Below releases from Broadway Records, I’ve been listening to one of the more less-mainstream of the series so far – Charles Busch Live At Feinstein’s / 54 Below.
For those who haven’t come across him before, the inimitable Charles Busch is a two-time MAC Award winner, Tony nominee, and drag legend, with a unique blend of songs both contemporary and standard. The New York Times critic Stephen Holden raved, “He has the gift of comic gab like few other entertainers. Innately funny, endearing and acutely intelligent, he also has claws. For an audience, the possibility of being scratched, although remote, lends his humour a bracing edge,” and author James Gavin adds “His singing is conversational, droll and full of heart, with a Fred Astaire-like naturalness and ease.”
Accompanied by his longtime musical director, Tom Judson, Charles combines personal reminiscence, character sketches and storytelling through song into an evening of entertainment.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this release when it arrived – it is, as far as Broadway Records’ usual releases go a little ‘off piste’. I’d not come across Busch before, so came to this with an open mind. And I have to say I’m glad I gave it more than one listen. The first listen was very much ‘what the hell !?!’. It’s certainly an act that works much better in person I would imagine than on CD – you do feel that you are missing so much by only hearing the laughter of the audience. It’s also fair to say that Busch is no lyrical tenor. His delivery is dry, and has a manner you will probably either love or hate.
The recording is very enjoyable, and despite my reservations above, I listened to it several times, and each I got more out of it. Busch is the consummate story teller - he takes you along the stories of his life with emotion, gusty and much joy. Song wise, it’s a varied programme. I loved the numbers from Sondheim that he performed at Lincoln Center – my favourites on the album, and also the numbers done as duets with Judson. Judson’s playing is also masterful, although there were a few ‘fistfulls’ played, which prove it was live at least !
Another worthy addition to the excellent 54 Below series.