Podcast Episode 18 Transcript – Charles Busch

Ken: Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Producer’s Perspective Podcast. Greetings from the Hamptons . . . that’s right, I’ve taken this podcast on the road. I am at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor where I just moderated a panel on new musical development featuring my wonderful guest, so I kidnapped him and strapped him to my hotel room chair and forced him to do this podcast. And that guest is none other than playwright, screenwriter, performer, Charles Busch. Welcome, Charles!

Charles: Well, hello. It’s wonderful being kidnapped.

Ken: Charles has been entertaining audiences with his very unique plays and performances on and Off-Broadway for several decades now, including Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, which remains one of the longest plays in off-Broadway history.

Charles: Longest running plays.

Ken: Longest running!

Charles: It’s only an hour and a half!

Ken: You can see what we’re in for, we’re in for some fun on this podcast. That’s right, one of the longest running plays in off-Broadway history. Psycho Beach Party, Die, Mommy, Die!, The Divine Sister and, of course, the Broadway smash hit and Tony-nominated The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife. He has adapted and starred in some of his own work on the big screen, has lectured and conducted masterclasses at many colleges and universities across the country, including NYU and Harvard, and received many awards over the years, including a special Drama Desk Award for career achievement as both performer and playwright . . . not too many people can claim that . . . and was given a star on the playwright’s walk of fame outside the Lucille Lortel Theatre. You can read all about him at his website, CharlesBusch.com. So, Charles, let’s start with the very simple, how did you fall in love with the theater? Where did it start?

Charles: I can’t remember when I didn’t love the theater. I was so fortunate that I actually grew up in New York City. I’m one of those rare people who are actually from New York City and, like many people, I had an extraordinary aunt. It seems to be a recurring thing with people . . . an extraordinary aunt and she started taking me to the theater when I was about eight years old. She belonged to this Macy’s theater club where you would order your tickets at the beginning of the season or the season before so you didn’t know what anything was going to be like, and you would just pick on faith so we tended not to see any of the hit shows, we just picked the flop shows. So as a kid I saw Baker Street, Tovarich, The Girl Who Came to Supper, Here’s Where I Belong, all of these shows that weren’t successful, but it was just a magical thing. So I always wanted to be up there on stage and I was desperate to be a child star, but nobody would exploit me so that didn’t work out, I had to wait a long time. Then I went to North Western University, I was a theater major. But I was absolutely just fixed on, “This is what I want to do and nothing’s going to stop me.”

Ken: And you were fixed on being a performer at the time?

Charles: I always wrote. I was writing plays when I was a small child. I was always writing, but somehow I didn’t really think of that as the career, it was just to be on stage. Ultimately, I began writing really just to provide myself with opportunities to act.

Ken: So that’s where it started, you wrote stuff to give yourself a shot?

Charles: Well maybe because I’m from New York City or maybe just because nature gave me a pragmatic attitude about life. So when I was at North Western and I was never cast in any play it made me think, “Uh, I might have a hard time in professional theater. I’m a rather eccentric type, shall we say? It may not work out,” and it was a rather devastating revelation to think that this thing that I wanted to do so badly, maybe there’s not a real place for me, so what do I do? Fortunately, once again being from New York City, when I would come home for vacation I started seeing more experimental theater. This was, let’s say, in the early to mid ’70s, it was kind of a golden age of experimental theater with these extraordinary figures like Charles Ludlum and Richard Foreman and the Performance Group, and particularly Charles Ludlum. When I saw him with his company, the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, it was almost as if I was hit by a tidal wave of just seeing the possibilities of what life could have in store for me. Creating my own work and having my own company, that theater could be whatever I chose it to be. It didn’t have to be the Broadway fare that I had been raised on, where maybe there was no place for me.

Ken: Of course you’re considered this great artist but, at the same time, I see in what you did at North Western this really entrepreneurial attitude.

Charles: Yeah, I always had that. Somehow I would do it myself, I would get the play on. It’s funny about that, because in some ways I’m a bit of a kook and the mechanics of living are sort of a little bit beyond me. I have trouble screwing in a lightbulb. It’s a problem, being me. Life is very difficult for those of us who have not mastered the mechanics of living. Everything is a challenge. Just plugging in a lamp, nothing works for me.

Ken: I will testify to that, only because when Charles and I were arranging this podcast I said, “I will text you my information. Charles, what’s your phone number?” and he said to me, “How would I find that out?”

Charles: I know, life is very difficult for me. I have no sense of direction. I walk a mile out of my way every day. But on the other hand, particularly as a young person starting out, I booked myself around the country doing my act, originally, because I was a solo performer for the first seven years of my career, with no management at all. I just booked myself around the country at small, non-profit theaters. I was very driven and I made it work, I just had to do it.

Ken: What was that first act like? What did you do?

Charles: How do I describe it? I was a solo performer, I would just be wearing neutral shirt and pants and they were almost like screenplays where I would play all of the characters and tell these very complicated narratives. I played men, women, anything that the narrative required. I was very influenced by a number of people. First there was Ruth Draper, a legendary figure in theater. She died before I was born so I never saw her but she was recorded late in her career and the recordings of her monologues are just fascinating, I learned so much. She was a big influence on Lily Tomlin and a lot of people. So her records and other contemporary performers that I saw play multiple characters in the way that created an illusion that you were seeing an ensemble play. And I would do, sometimes, the dialogue back and forth between several characters and the idea was to create that kind of illusion, that you were seeing a whole play. So I did that and I kept learning and I did that for seven or eight years and I learned so much as a writer about exposition, characterization, and certainly as a performer, performing for every kind of audience, it’s almost like when you hear about people who did vaudeville. And I was frustrated because I wanted to be an overnight success but, in a way, things worked out just fine because I would not have been ready had my moment come sooner. I was not ready. I was convinced, and you’re slightly deranged when you have that kind of faith in yourself, that if I just kept at it, like a horse with blinders on, and if I kept learning and getting better, then it had to work. Eventually I would earn a living doing this and it would work out for me. It’s kind of nutty, it just didn’t occur to me that it wouldn’t. It was frustrating and I was angry. “When’s it going to be my turn? The gatekeeper’s in my way,” and all of that, but never to the point of, “Maybe I won’t do this if it’s not going to work.” Remember, I was raised by my aunt and she was very, very supportive but I do remember, at one point, her saying to me, “You need something to fall back on.” I was like, “Well, what?” She said, “Well, you draw very well. You could be an artist.” I said, “An artist? You want me to be a painter to fall back on?” And she said, “Well, Tony Bennett . . .” “He’s a big star!” She said, “Well Johnny Carson has his clothes line.” I said, “It’s hard enough trying to be an actor. I should also have a line of menswear?” Nobody understands.

Ken: Was there a moment, after this deranged period, where you were like, “Oh, wait, it’s working now?” When was that moment?

Charles: The thing was, it was a very difficult period for me. My 20s were not fun because it got to the point, as the years were going by that I was doing this, that I was getting better and I would get rave reviews in reputable publications like The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, in different cities that I was in, and I would sell out. I would play different non-profit theaters, small non-profit theaters, various places, and I would be there for a month at a time. It wasn’t just a one night gig, I would be there for a month, and I would sell out the theater and I was a hit and I would get rave reviews but I still couldn’t earn a living in theater because I didn’t have any management so I didn’t work enough. I would close in San Francisco a great star and then come home and I’d be doing office temp work. Or I draw very well so I would be a quick sketch portrait artist. I did a lot of crazy different things, but then I’d have my next gig in another city and do well. So that went on for about seven years, getting better and better, but frustrated because the whole thing is to earn a living. You’re not a professional, somehow, unless you’re earning a living. So that was the dream, not to win an Oscar or anything. But just to earn a living in your chosen profession is one of the most difficult accomplishments, I think, known to mankind.

Ken: When did that happen for you? When did that moment come?

Charles: It was very dramatic. I had been doing this act and I was kind of at a low ebb. Actually it’s kind of a mystical story because I was working as a quick sketch portrait artist for an agency called Rent-A-Witch that booked tarot card readers and palmists, and I remember I was in a car with the head witch, Barbara, and I was telling her that my career was really as a performer, not as a portrait artist. And I was so frustrated because it wasn’t working out, I wasn’t getting a big break, and she said, “Alright, this is what you’re going to do. I’m giving you the recipe of an herbal bath. You take these herbs and you put them in the bathtub and you sit in that tub for half an hour each day for six days and you will find that your luck is going to change.” So I said, “I’ll do it,” and so I did it. I sat in that awful bathtub . . . oregano and garlic, I got bay leaf stuck up my ass, and after a week I went, “Well, this is just ridiculous,” and I forgot about it. Then, a couple of years later, I started doing this timetable and my luck changed within that year. I wish I still had that recipe.

Ken: I was going to say, we could market that together. The Charles Busch Recipe for Success: The Bath.

Charles: I lost it because I thought it was ridiculous, but maybe it wasn’t. Anyway, so the big twist . . . this was 1984 and I knew this friend, a very exotic lady, a performance artist, and she invited me to see her act, way down on the lower east side in Alphabet City, which is the part of New York where it’s just Avenue A, Avenue B, Avenue C. In 1984 it was a very scary neighborhood, a lot of crack being done and buildings were mostly burned out and rubble. But occasionally there were little pockets of interesting dance clubs or art galleries. Madonna and Keith Haring came out of that environment. So I was kind of scared but I went down to this creepy place and it was a storefront-art gallery-performance space-bar of Limbo Lounge and I was just dazzled. It was this punk, gay, goth audience. They didn’t just hang pictures, it was an art installation. It was very grotesque, kind of a Cocteau, or Berlin in the ’20s, really it was very decadent . . . and my friend’s act, you kind of had to be there. It was very strange indeed, but I was so enraptured that I immediately found this young man who owned the place and I said, “I would just love to do a show here.” And he looked at the calendar and he didn’t know who I was and nobody knew who I was anyway so he gave me a weekend a month later. I was doing some office temp work and between phone calls I just wrote this little sketch, I would be in drag, it seemed very decadent. I didn’t want to do my regular, severe performance art. “I’ll be in drag, it’s going to be really outrageous, I’ll be the vampire actress.” It was about half an hour long, this little skit, and I just asked some friends of mine who were basically told they were unemployable in the theater and we rehearsed a couple of times and literally spent no money because there was no stage. We couldn’t have a set, and we threw the costumes together with stuff from the closet. We just had a ball that weekend and we decided to do a second weekend and a third weekend, another little play there. And then this young man, Michael, who ran the place, said we should be a regular theater group there so we just kept doing these plays every three weeks. And particularly this one play, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, I don’t know, people just kept coming and packing the joint. We could squeeze in 250 people in this tiny space. We were in the right place at the right time because that six month period it just started to happen that all of the media were talking about this crazy performance art scene in the East Village so People magazine and New York magazine would do big stories about it and our plays had these crazy titles like Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Theodora, She-Bitch of Byzantium, so it was good for a punchline in the article. So we got this great publicity and we didn’t spend a penny on publicity. They were lined up down the block and, finally, Ken Elliott, who was my roommate and directing the show and producing it, as such, and acting in it, said, “Maybe this is our big break, this crazy thing that we’re doing strictly for our own amusement.” We tried to get some producers to move it to a real place and nobody would touch it. And then Ken figured out that if we raised $55,000 we could at least open at an Off-Broadway theater, so we got the Provincetown Playhouse on MacDougal Street and we got the money together. It took us about six months. It was a lot of money for us.

Ken: What year was that?

Charles: 1984. I mean it was ridiculously low even for ’84.

Ken: Still, that’s a lot of money.

Charles: For people that had no money at all . . . but everybody’s mother and grandmother gave us $5,000 . . . we had to raise $55,000 but we had 250 investors. It was like $5 a unit. So we opened and we really had just enough to open, that was kind of it. Sure enough, opening night came and we got a rave review in The New York Times. It was very touching because everyone got mentioned in the review, all of these people who had been so discouraged. It was maybe the greatest moment of my life and nothing, even though I’ve had a big Broadway opening . . . I don’t think anything can be as exciting as the moment when you know your life is really going to change. Because my life didn’t change that much when . . . I had a nice career already before The Allergist’s Wife, but to go from office temp to professional was the big leap. That show ran five years. I was in for about two and then we replaced everybody and got new actors and we went on to other shows. That’s a long answer to a simple question you asked me, but those of us who were involved consider it Brigadoon mixed with 42nd Street, the greatest story ever told.

Ken: You obviously have been known for a lot of your drag performances, but was that the first one? Where did that start?

Charles: I could say it was. Maybe I could say it wasn’t. The thing was, when I had seen Ludlum . . . I was in my late teens when I first saw him and he used drag as a theatrical element. I have an androgynous nature and I was always doing celebrity impressions for my friends but, even more, I was always improvising my own movie dialogue without thinking that maybe that was what I really should be doing. So after I graduated from North Western I stayed in Chicago two more years because it’s hard, when you’re from New York City, to start your career, in a way, because everybody else kind of comes to New York but when you’re there already you kind of need somewhere to come from. It sounds kind of nutty. So I stayed in Chicago and, while I was there, I was in a play and I met some people and I said that I had a fantasy of starting a company like Ludlum and writing plays and being the lead and they all wanted to hook on. So I started doing drag plays in Chicago, doing them in bars and movie theaters after the late show and stuff, but it was the wrong group. There were people who, ultimately, didn’t really share the same hopes and dreams as me and kind of resented me, actually, because I was getting all of the attention. It was a rather awful experience. I was so burned from it that that’s why I became a solo performer, in a way, because I didn’t want to depend on anyone anymore. And then yet, ironically, ten years later this greatest thing happened to me with the same type of group, only this was a group of people who believed in me and felt that I had something to offer and were grateful for the roles that I wrote for them. So they were total mirror images of one another, one disastrous and one fantastic.

Ken: Do you enjoy writing more or performing more? You started as a performer, then the writing came, do you have a preference?

Charles: It depends on my mood, really. Some days, when I’m so in the throes of writing something . . . and I am happiest when I’m right in the middle of rewriting something, just going into that document on the computer five times a day with a new idea and just reading it again, changing a line, changing a word, changing it back, changing it again. I guess I am happiest then, but I’ve derived enormous joy from being in a play and, as an actor/writer, there aren’t too many of us . . .

Ken: Actually, there are a lot of you, they’re just not a successful group, which is really a testament to you.

Charles: There’s something just wonderful about creating this fictional world where, for two hours, the world is exactly as I planned and everybody’s saying exactly the lines I want them to say and moving in the same place and I’m at the center of it all. It’s fantastic. I don’t know where my future lies, what I want to do at this point. I have many notions and ideas, maybe plays, maybe not. But when you ask me that question, yes, I have derived enormous satisfaction and joy from writing, and particularly writing and acting in my own plays.

Ken: How do you edit yourself when you’re writing and speaking your own words? Is it difficult for you? Do you get in fights with yourself?

Charles: No, fortunately I’ve always worked with a director. Others in my position, like Charles Ludlum, were also directors. I have never done that. I don’t know, I never desired to direct a play. I have directed some films. I directed a feature film and a short subject and I loved that, but I think it’s harder to direct a play than a movie and I don’t know if I’d really have the talent for it. I’m a good acting coach but I don’t know if I’d be good at staging, necessarily, or even want to. So I’ve always worked with a director and I’ve worked with directors from the very beginning of a project. I work with them really as dramaturg, so I’ve always kind of resented the role of dramaturg, when we’ve gone to non-profit theaters because I’ve been working so closely for two years with this director that I don’t want anyone else muscling in. And yet I know that numerous very successful writers have had extraordinary experiences with dramaturgs and developed them, but I have never had that. But I have had these profound relationships with my directors and I’ve worked with very few people. In a career that’s almost 40 years old I could maybe count on one hand the directors that I’ve worked with. Maybe a hand and a half. I do many plays with the same person, Carl Andress, the past 15 years without exception. And they work as dramaturg so they’re the outside eye and they don’t seem to be afraid to tell me when I’m wrong. Nobody seems to be terribly intimidated by me at all, but I listen. When I get notes I sort of fall silent but it’s not out of disapproval. I just kind of absorb it, I sit and listen and I go home and I might stew for a while, like, “Oh, that’s a ridiculous notion,” and think some more about it . . . “Well maybe I’ll just take a look, I’ll open up the file again. Ridiculous. Well, I suppose I could do that. That’s a funny line. That’s not exactly what he asked for but that’s good. Oh, this is good, that’s a smart idea he had.” That’s kind of the process. I think I’ve had things where I felt it was more destructive with the outside dramaturg that has talked a good game and then got me confused until I didn’t know what the play was about, and then it turned out the play wasn’t very good.

Ken: I’m a big fan of the director as dramaturg rather than another voice.

Charles: Some directors are. There are maybe some directors where that’s not their skill. Their great imagination is in stage pictures and that sort of thing, but I’ve had great experiences with the director as dramaturg.

Ken: Tell me a little bit about Allergist’s Wife and how that started for you.

Charles: In a way, I’m meeting you today because we’re at this reading of my play The Green Heart, this musical that I did in the mid ’90s, and Allergist’s Wife is, in a sense, directly connected to that because we did The Great Heart at Manhattan Theatre Club, and while we were doing that I became acquainted with Lynne Meadow, the artistic director there, and we just hit it off immediately. She wasn’t involved with the production. She was the artistic director of the theater, but we just hit it off big. And the opening night of Green Heart reviews were disappointing and Lynne said to me, “I’d like MTC to be your artistic home and I’ll produce your next play, whatever it is.” Wow, that’s some leap of faith! I thought I’d better take her up on this. Manhattan Theatre Club isn’t really the place for Vampire Lesbians: Part II so I thought, “What would be something to do there?” And I had this character that I had done in a solo show called Flipping My Wig at the WPA Theatre. It was a collection of pieces that I did and one of them was about this Upper West Side Jewish, frustrated, raging lady, Miriam Passman, and it was kind of the first time that I had really delved into my own background in New York. It was six minutes long but it was a very specific thing and it was really good, and for a long time I thought, “Gee, I’d like to write a play around that kind of lady.” Something really well observed, from what I knew, and when Lynne made that offer to me I thought it was a good opportunity because it was sort of about the MTC subscribers . . . they are Miriam Passman, all of these people, these culturally obsessed women. The play kind of came to me and I wrote it fairly quickly. I knew those people, I knew that milieu. Then I saw Linda Lavin in a play called Death-Defying Acts. I obviously knew of Linda Lavin, but in that play she was playing a character that was kind of like that so as I wrote the play I had her in mind as I continued working on it. I finished the play, gave it to Lynne Meadow, and she loved it and said, “Let’s do a reading right away. Who’s your fantasy Marjorie?” who was the character in the play. I said, “Linda Lavin,” she said, “Let’s get her,” and we got her to do the reading. It was an extraordinary thing. Knowing Linda now, I’m sure she was reading it cold, I’m sure she didn’t prepare for that reading, but it was a perfect, perfect match of actress and role and I have never seen the like of it again. The actors were kind of sitting at the table and there’s this audience of interns and various drones, etc., and everything that Linda ended up doing in the show for real was at this reading. At one point there’s a bit dramatic scene, a fight with the elderly mother, and Linda just got up from the table, we were like, “Where is she going?” And she went to the window, standing there, and she was just acting it. It was so thrilling. After it was over, Lynne and I were like hungry dogs, our tongues hanging out. “So you’ll do the play, huh, huh?” “Hmm, ahh, I don’t know. I’m not sure.” And for nine months she kept us dangling. I was determined that she was going to do that play and I stalked her, I was relentless. I went to LA where she was doing Collected Stories, showed up there. I wrote her letters comparing her to Bernhardt and Duse. I was just shameless. And she buckled and decided to do it.

Ken: Well it worked before, this deranged period of your life, this intense passion.

Charles: If you really want something, you just have to go for it. I’ve had long periods where I’ve sometimes felt I lost that intensity, but when I really want something I go for it.

Ken: Wikipedia’s entry about that play says, “In his first play written for a mainstream audience.”

Charles: That word! I hate that word.

Ken: I had a feeling you would.

Charles: Tell me if you agree with this. I think the only difference between mainstream and downtown, or whatever you want to call it, is the size of your publicity budget. You could go on a Broadway stage and take off all your clothes and humiliate yourself, and if you have ads on taxi cabs and everywhere, you’re mainstream. If you do it in a garage somewhere you’re downtown.

Ken: It’s what we were talking about before when you were talking about the frustrating years of your life because of the “gatekeepers,” etc. Once someone opens a Broadway theater to you and lets you do whatever show you’re doing, you’re mainstream. You’ve got that budget, you’re getting people in there.

Charles: Yeah, it doesn’t matter what the content is.

Ken: How long you run . . . that’s, of course, another thing.

Charles: That’s maybe something different, but yes. I’ve told this story before but I’ll tell it on your podcast. Well, first of all, when you do something noteworthy you have your narrative that season about you, and you have to go with it. And you have to have some kind of understanding of the way showbiz works. Your story has to be compressed into 30 words or less, so that season the story was that this downtown drag queen had so shockingly written this mainstream Neil Simon kind of comedy. That was my story that season. However, only five years before I had written a play called You Should Be So Lucky, which was a Jewish comedy and that had a rave review in the Times by Ben Brantley and had a nice run Off-Broadway, but we forgot that part because it didn’t go with the narrative. And I’m with you. I want to sell tickets, I’ll buy it, but it did sort of bug me when the “mainstream” phrase was banded about so much because I kind of felt like it was a little bit of a put down of everything I had done for the last 25 years. “Isn’t it wonderful? Finally, he’s mainstream.” And I was very proud of the work I had done for 20 years or more, the wonderful collaborations that I was very proud of. And in truth, since I had performed at the Limbo Lounge on Avenue C, every play of mine had started at a reputable non-profit, the WPA Theatre or whatever, and each play had transferred commercially Off-Broadway, which is something that doesn’t happen anymore. So my joke was that my audience wasn’t all pinheads and carnie folk. I think I was kind of mainstream, just not on Broadway. But the night that everything changed was . . . one night, I was home, watching Survivor I think.

Ken: Charles Busch, a Survivor fan, you heard it here.

Charles: Oh, I’ve never missed a single episode of Survivor in 20 seasons.

Ken: 20 seasons!

Charles: I’ve never missed a single episode.

Ken: And you can’t operate a DVR, right, so you watch them live?

Charles: No, that I can do. My sister can’t because she’s worse than I am. Anyway, I was watching Survivor and I looked at the clock and it said it was like 8:35 and I was like, “Oh, Linda must be going through the end of act one, and I just made a lot of money! I love being mainstream!”

Ken: That’s a great story. Someone actually told me once, “Ken, you’ll know you’ve made it when you get a check without having to show up for half hour.”

Charles: I couldn’t believe it. I wish everybody in the world could have a hit Broadway play. It is the most wonderful thing in the world. I’ve been desperately trying to get another one and it hasn’t happened. Not for lack of trying either, because it’s hard.

Ken: What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

Charles: Honestly, for the past year, I’ve been having a wonderful time just exploring every other kind of avenue of creativity other than writing a play. I’ve been having a wonderful time. I’ve been painting and selling my artwork, which is awfully nice.

Ken: You fell back on being an artist!

Charles: I know, my aunt would be so happy that I’m actually selling my artwork now, like Tony Bennett. And then I’ve been doing my cabaret act for the past three years and travelling all over. This past year I was in Paris and London and San Francisco, Palm Springs, Boston, Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans. I’m having a wild old time. My pianist, Tom Judson, is my dear, dear friend, and we just have fun travelling around, getting new material together, learning songs. I’m not the world’s greatest singer but I approach the songs I choose as a storyteller and as acting pieces, and it seems to work very well. So I’m loving it. I never toured as an actor. I always wanted to tour our shows but, economically, it seemed like they were best in smaller theaters and it was just too expensive to do. So this has been a way of . . . I don’t want to come off too Norma Desmond here. . . but I’m going to all of these places and when I do my act, as soon as it’s over, I just stay there and take pictures with everybody, kind of like Santa at Macy’s. I meet everybody in the audience and it’s just been very gratifying and even rather emotional for me to meet people all over the country that appreciate me and that I’ve meant something to, either through the couple of little cult movies I’ve made or seeing my plays done in local productions or reading them. I wrote this one novel, it seems to have gotten around somehow, and that’s a wonderful thing, after almost four decades, to find out that there are people all over who you meant something to.

Ken: You started out touring, in a way.

Charles: Exactly where I started from.

Ken: But you have management now, I assume.

Charles: Kind of. Kind of, yeah. I have this wonderful manager, Jeff Melnick, who I’ve been with for about 30 years, and he’s really a screen and TV writer manager and I did a lot of that stuff with him at a certain point. But he just loves the theater. He doesn’t make much money from me, but I’m his conduit to the theater and lately I’ve turned him into a cabaret booking agent at the age of 70 years old, he’s suddenly Broadway Danny Rose. He’s a man of great enthusiasm. He’s kind of half retired actually. He only has two clients, one who makes him a lot of money in TV, and then me. So I think he’s getting a real kick out of suddenly, at 70, calling up the cabarets and trying to up my fee.

Ken: I love it. Alright, my last question for, which I ask all my guests . . . it’s become known as the genie question . . . is that I want you to imagine that the genie from Aladdin comes into the fabulous Sag Harbor Inn here where we are and says to you, “Charles, I’ve admired your career so much. You’ve worn so many hats, you’ve been so determined. I’m going to grant you one wish. You can change whatever you want about Broadway or the theater. Whatever bugs you more than anything, keeps you up at night, drives you crazy. I’ll change one thing for you with the snap of a finger.” What would that one thing that you would change be?

Charles: Well if we’re talking fantasy land . . .

Ken: Fantasy.

Charles: Fantasy land, I wish that it was economically feasible for all tickets to Broadway shows to be no more expensive than $25. That everybody could make a big fortune from it, but the public could see it for $25. That would change everything. Everything.

Ken: It certainly would. Charles, I want to thank you so much. It’s midnight now where we are, so thank you for doing this after a very long day. I, and I know all of my listeners, so admire your passion, your determination to get to where you are. I know a lot of my listeners also wear a lot of hats and you are the perfect example of a person and an artist who can perform, write and do just about everything because of your determination to do so. So thank you for that. And thank you all for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.