‘The Lady in Question Is Charles Busch’


There’s no question that Busch, arguably the last living grande dame of stage and screen, is ready for his close-up—but couldn’t we do better? Granted, this fawning documentary does a fine job tracing his drag-to-riches story. In fact, the dramatic arc that propels Busch from tawdry downtown obscurity to Broadway and Hollywood big time would make a great Busch script: After an early breakout hit ( Vampire Lesbians of Sodom), our heroine (Busch playing himself—or a composite of Bankhead, Crawford, Shearer, et al., and himself) survives paltry budgets, dying co-stars, and heart surgery; takes his act to Tinseltown (in Psycho Beach Party and as a camp Clytemnestra in Die, Mommie, Die!); and earns a Tony nod ( The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife). But the filmmakers go heavy on the hagiography and light on the revelation: About the biggest surprise is that Busch’s life changed forever at an impressionable age (and really, whose didn’t?) upon witnessing Sutherland’s La Sonnambula at the old Met. And they gloss over concerns that mainstream Busch isn’t as funny or as daring as cult Busch. Still, I’d kill for more footage of his less famous plays, like the intriguingly titled Pardon My Inquisition, or Kiss the Blood Off My Castanets.

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