Interview: Charles Busch

6a00d8341ca51d53ef0111684be2f0970c-800wiFrom March 2009:

Legends!—a hilarious comedy about two glamorous, Hollywood has-beens and arch-rivals forced to consider working together on a new project to resuscitate their careers—is one of the most notorious theatrical properties ever written, mostly for what happened behind-the-scenes. 

Originally presented in a 1986 year-long, pre-Broadway tour starring Carol Channing and Mary Martin, it closed on the road before making it to New York.  The juicy on and off-stage antics were chronicled and immortalized in playwright James Kirkwood’s own non-fiction account, Diary of a Mad Playwright: Perilous Adventures on the Road with Mary Martin and Carol Channing.  In 2007, the play was again presented as a pre-Broadway national tour, this time helmed by “Dynasty” co-stars Joan Collins and Linda Evans.  Also failing to make it to New York, the production had its backstage wars chronicled in lurid detail by Ms. Collins in a two-part series in London’s Daily Mail.

Now its returning as a One Night Only staged reading starring Charles Busch, Whoopi Goldberg and Lypsinka in the first-ever New York presentation of the play, featuring a script that has been adapted for this reading by John Epperson AKA Lypsinka.  Also starring Bryan Batt (“Mad Men”) with additional casting to be announced, the special event is a benefit for Friends In Deed – The Crisis Center for Life-Threatening Illness. We sat down with legendary actor and playwright Charles Busch to get his take on the event.

So how did this come about?

Various friends over the years have suggest that I should do a drag “Legends” , but I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of doing it with a less than ideal cast—and I’ve always felt that the script, funny as it often is, is too long. This was surprising to me since I loved James Kirkwood’s novels like Good Times, Bad Times and Some Kind of Hero. What’s different this time is that John Epperson approached me with his own adaptation; the idea of doing it as a one-night only benefit for Friends In Deed; with himself and Whoopi Goldberg already attached playing the other leading roles. I read his adaptation which tightens the play marvelously—and so I leapt at it, there was just no reason to say no. I’ve always enjoyed working with John, I’ve known Whoopi for a long time and am excited to be working with her, and we have some surprise guests—it should be great campy fun.

As a playwright, you’ve been taking a lot more chances recently…

Yes! I very intentionally included more dramatic dimension in Our Leading Lady and The Third Story, because I’m a firm believer that a writer, in order to grow, needs to keep stretching and challenging themselves. Oh! I feel like I’ve been working on The Third Story for a year! I mean there were months between the two productions, but I personally was never that far away from it. I was hard at work on rewrites the whole time. And when I first wrote it I thought, “Oh, this won’t be so much work for me as an actor. I’ve given such a big part and so much stage time to the wonderful Kathleen Turner” but every second I’m offstage, I’m frantically changing costume, it’s actually exhausting. So as much as I loved it I’m glad to be done with it and doing something where I’m not the writer.

So are you working on something new, Charles?

I’m working on a bunch of different new things. I writing a Lifetime Network movie—can you believe it! It was difficult at first, but now I’m really getting into the swing of it. I can’t tell you what it’s about, and there are a bunch of other film and TV projects I can’t tell you anything about. I never set out to write for anything but the theatre but all of these wonderful opportunities come up and I’m actually thrilled to be doing them.

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