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A CurtainUp Review
Flipping My Wig
By Elyse Sommer
This season two illusionists, Joseph Gabriel and David Copperfield, have garnered praise from audiences and critics. Now an illusionist with a different kind of magic is entertaining audiences at the WPA Theatre. The magician we're talking about is of course Charles Busch, author and star of the hit spoof Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and numerous other revues and plays. With the flip of a dynel wig and a quick change from one slinky outfit to another, this "gender illusionist" (his politically correct term for drag performer) evokes a whole portrait gallery of over-the-top stage, screen and cabaret divas. The secret of Busch's success is that instead of merely impersonating the glamorous 1930s and 40s icons he admires, he appropriates their persona to create his own unique and usually hilarious portraits. Thus in this new show, he assimilates Joan Crawford's famous meanie Mildred Pierce into his own tale of Cinderella's wicked stepmother.
Since Flipping My Wig, falls midway between cabaret act and autobiographical performance piece, some of the women are used to explore, albeit ever so lightly, the reason they became and remained the way for Busch to express himself as a performer. However, his closing sketch, besides showing his illusionist's skill at its side-splitting peak, best sums up the essence of these female legends' hold on Busch. His inspiration is the French chanteuse Edith Piaf, but the Piaf-like portrait of a suburban high school French teacher named Miriam Pathman that emerges is pure Busch. Funny as this is it epitomizes the "Walter Mitty" appeal Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt, Susan Hayward, etc have for anyone who yearns to transcend the ordinary, to make a grand entrance and be fabulous.
B. T. Whitehill's set for Wig is attractive and efficient. A scrim painted with a larger than life portrait of Mr. Busch allows the real Busch to materialize, as if by magic, onto a small circular staircase. Dick Gallagher's witty songs, virtuoso piano accompaniment and occasional interchanges with Busch contribute enormously to the proceedings. Kenneth Elliott, who has worked with the star in the past, keeps things moving at a brisk pace.
For all that Busch's parade of characters and the show's production values are those of a theater evening, anyone expecting "an evening with Charles Busch" as per the show's billing is likely to view an hour as somewhat short of "an evening.""According to the program, the performance was set to run for an hour and twenty minutes so for reasons unknown to us the director must have decided at some point during the previews that less would be better. Perhaps it is, though there is an abrupt feel to the ending which may or may not be due to these cuts. We didn't hear any grumbling about the shortened performance, except for one wry comment: "This took up less time than we spent getting here to see it."