Flipping My Wig” is a mid-career summary for playwright and female impersonator – or “gender illusionist” – Charles Busch. The lecture-hall format, in which Busch discusses an event, style or performer that affected him and follows with a song, shows how he reinvented the influence in his own terms. Busch could easily take this show to every theater department in the country, offering students insight into the creative process of a working artist.
In one example of how his mind transforms disparate bits of culture into something original, Busch explains that as a child he would meld fairy tales and 1940s films noirs to create a story of a born-to-be-bad Cinderella as told by a stepmother who falls somewhere between Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford.
Busch also provides a historical context for his over-the-top acting style with a re-creation of a Sarah Bernhardt performance. More fleeting, but good for a laugh, are quick glimpses of Audrey Hepburn and Susan Heyward.
Closer to home is a very funny and often touching piece about a suburbanite who does a cabaret tribute to Edith Piaf. It is at once a put-down of his competitors and an homage to the housewives whose dreams and aspirations influenced him as a child.
Matching the wit and broad cultural references of Busch’s script are the tongue-twisting songs contributed by Rusty Magee and Dick Gallagher. Gallagher also serves as onstage accompanist, occasionally joining Busch in a song or a scene, and taking over completely to perform a spirited number of his own while Busch has an offstage costume change.
Robert Legere’s costumes are appropriately beautiful, and B.T. Whitehill’s grand yet intimate set is framed by plush red curtains and centered with a larger-than-life portrait of the star. Lighting designer Michael Lincoln shows he knows how to illuminate that star. Kenneth Elliot’s direction is brisk but unhurried, and topping off everything are the creations that give the show its title, courtesy of Elizabeth Katherine Carr.