What he is is a legendary drag performer who has proven throughout the decades that he is a damn good writer… think Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, The Lady in Question, Red Square on Sunset, Psycho Beach Party, Die Mommie Die!
Now Busch has unleased Leading Lady: A Memoir of a Most Unusual Boy (Smart Pop Books, $27.95), an autobiography that’s fast and furious and funny, funny, funny and at times, sad, but not as sad as you will be when you’re on the last page.
The LGBTG+ icon takes us from Hartsdale, New York (with references to dead celebrity-studded Ferncliff, Westchester County’s take on Forest Lawn) to losing his mother to a damaged heart before he turned eight to his love of theatre (given to him by his father, a failed opera singer) to losing his virginity at sixteen to his colorful, outlandish friends and family members (including sisters Betsy and Margaret) to the onslaught of AIDS to being nominated for a Tony for The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife to his near-death experience to . . . well, you get the idea.
Busch is a rambunctious raconteur. There are no chapters, but dozens of short tantalizing time capsules. The book is a magnificent mosaic, crammed with so many delicious anecdotes that blindingly shine and rival any cubic zirconia jewel Joan Rivers sold during her QVC career. The gems will have you laughing and crying, though the emphasis is on laughing. The stories are sassy (this is where Claudette Colbert and Kim Novak come in); sinful (this is where Esther Williams and Michele Lee come in); sentimental (this is where Carol Channing and Stephen Sondheim come in) and (bitter)sweet (this is where Liza Minnelli and Valerie Harper come in).
Leading Lady is not the lugubrious diary of some displaced cross dresser who longs to tackle RuPaul; it’s the best (read: candid, honest) autobiography since Joan Rivers’ Enter Talking. Joan pops up several times, beginning on page one. “Joan was the most prominent in a long line of smart, bigger-than-life mother figures I’ve attached myself to,” he writes. “All my life I’ve been in search for a maternal woman whose lap I could rest my head on.”
His life was guided, perhaps sometimes misguided, by his mother’s oldest sister, Aunt Lil Blum, who Busch saw as an Auntie Mame and whose ritzy Park Avenue apartment is where he lived as a teen. Aunt Lil had faith in her nephew since Day One and began taking him to Broadway shows when he was nine years old. “Some, like the talky and sexually explicit John Osborne British drama Inadmissible Evidence, were a bit of an intellectual stretch for a third grader, but Aunt Lil never explained anything to me. There was the assumption that I’d either figure it out or let it pass over my head,” he writes.
Busch cannot remember not wanting to be on stage. “I was desperate to be a child star, but my ambitions were always foiled,” he writes. He recalls auditioning for a Yonkers, New York community theater production of Oliver! — losing the role after five auditions. “In the end, they cast some dreadful butch child without a shred of sensitivity.”
It was Aunt Lil who sent Busch to acting school on Saturdays; he recalls the very first lesson. “The teacher taught us how to make an entrance down a staircase wearing a gown with a long train without ever looking down at our feet—a skill that has proved invaluable in my career in the theater.” Ironically, Aunt Lil never saw Busch on stage in drag. “I’d be worried that the audience might not like you or be unkind,” he recalls she told him.
Aunt Lil supported him when Busch needed the money; before fame hit, part-time jobs usually didn’t work out. Busch acknowledges that in so many ways that she was the one who nourished his dreams, especially before he discovered his gift for writing plays and making a living as a male actress.
Busch witnessed Aunt Lil’s decline for eight years. Her death crumbled him. “Entering the hospital room . . . I climbed onto the bed, snuggling next to her, and buried my face in her long beautiful grey hair,” he writes. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. . . I had so much to thank her for. She had saved my life. She made everything possible. . . . Everything leads me to Aunt Lil.”
The end of Aunt Lil, but not the end of Leading Lady. Even with all the sissified innuendos and campy asides, the book ends up centering around love: love of theatre, of film, of family, of friends and ultimately love of oneself. To give away much more is to give away the heart and soul of the book. Read it, wander off to the 24 pages of (mostly) color photos, then roam back into Busch’s valentine of memories and magic, vim and vitality.
She is a goddess. Really.
Currently wowing audiences with her Tony-nominated performance in Carousel, Grammy-winning soprano Renée Fleming has released Broadway (Decca Classics), a CD celebrating musical theatre. The album features a diverse array of songs for the stage by composers including Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Pasek & Paul, and Rodgers & Hammerstein, as well as a special guest duet with the Hamilton, television and film star, Leslie Odom, Jr.
Says Fleming, “The great, classic Broadway musicals were central to my childhood. I sang Eliza Doolittle twice before I was even out of high school. This repertoire is so rich, and the sheer quality of the music is so high, that it’s been a joy to record these songs. And along with the growth of popular music, the sound of musical theater has evolved over time. Composers like Jeanine Tesori, and Pasek and Paul, and even popular music icons like Sting, have enriched the genre. It’s a living art form, enjoying a real boom right now, and it was a thrill for me to be able to include phenomenal songs that are absolutely current.”
The new recording features a wide range of Broadway hits from the ’20s to the present, in sumptuous orchestrations, many commissioned specially for this album.
Among the songs are “The Sound of Music”, “The Glamorous Life” from A Little Night Music; “Tell Me on A Sunday” from Song and Dance; “Wonderful Guy” from South Pacific; “Fable” from The Light in the Piazza; and “So Big So Small” from Dear Evan Hansen. Fleming’s collaborators include Rob Fisher as music supervisor and conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra, as well as the incomparable bassist and jazz great Christian McBride, rising star pianist Dan Tepfer and Grammy-winning producer David Frost.
Listen closely: Listen and you will understand why she is a goddess.
We cannot think of a better Valentine’s Day gift, even if it won’t be released until February 24. Judy Collins takes the audience through Stephen Sondheim’s remarkable treasure trove of music, interweaving stories of Broadway with her personal anecdotes in A Love Letter to Stephen Sondheim (MVD Entertainment Group). The musical treat was filmed in May 2016 at the Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver, Colorado.
“I have loved the songs and the shows of Stephen since recording ‘Send in the Clowns’ on my album Judith in 1974,” says Collins. (Her take on the tune earned Sondheim his only chart-topping song.)
“My version of the great Sondheim ballad garnered a Grammy, the top ten slot in Billboard twice in a decade, and is still played on the radio all over the world. Ever since the success, I have longed to sing the rest of Sondheim’s greatest songs. Now, I have the opportunity do to that. These songs glow with familiarity and inhabit the rooms and vistas of all our lives, scenes and melodies from A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, Company, Merrily We Roll Along and Into the Woods. I pray to do justice to these great songs, and to their composer, one of our national treasures: Stephen Sondheim.”
All orchestrations are by Jonathan Tunick, who has been orchestrating Stephen Sondheim’s musicals for decades. Tunick’s genius orchestration were used by Collins for her “Send in the Clowns.”
Simply put, the best box set of the year has nothing to do with music. Or singers. Or orchestrations. Decca has released Shakespeare: The Complete Works, an unabridged collection of Shakespeare’s 37 plays, performed by The Marlowe Dramatic Society and Professional Players. In addition, there are all of the 154 Sonnets combined with the four narrative poems comes together to create an ultimate collection in one box set.
The recordings feature celebrated actors such as Sir John Gielgud, Richard Pasco, Dame Prunella Scales, Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Trevor Nunn, Peggy Ashcroft, Patrick Wymarck and many others. It’s big and heavy and could also serve as a murder weapon. Just in case.
The ideal gift for those who want to keep the “Christ” in Christmas. Bill Gaither’s Homecoming Hymns is a true blessing from Time Life. This must-have 10-disc set is packed with 150 inspirational performances, a bonus 20-song CD and a collectible 48-page hymns book with lyrics. Bonus content also includes extended conversations with Bill and Gloria Gaither, Behind the Scenes featurettes about the “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art” DVDs, and an exclusive, new interview with Bill talking about hymns.
Since his early days with the Bill Gaither Trio, Bill has enjoyed a love of hymns. That love has grown stronger over the years, and these sacred gems have reached new levels of popularity during the last 20 years of Homecoming concerts featuring stars of country and southern gospel music. Time Life invites fans of gospel and Christian music to enjoy an unforgettable collection of the world’s most beautiful hymns personally selected by Bill himself. The tunes are enlivened by guest performers including George Jones, The Oak Ridge Boys, Larry Gatlin, Marty Stuart and Alabama. The set is only available currently through TimeLife.comor by calling 800-950-7887.
Since he made his Billboard chart debut in 1964, Hank Williams, Jr. has amassed one of the most prolific catalogs in the history of the music business. Curb Records now celebrates that legacy with the release of Hank Williams, Jr: A Country Boy Can Survive, a four-disc box set that stands as one of the most comprehensive Williams sets ever released.
Focusing on his superstar era that kicked off with 1979’s “Family Tradition,” 29 of his 30 Billboard Top-40 Country hits from 1979-1990 are featured on the collection, which also includes nine of his ten number one hits (including his first 1970’s “All For The Love Of Sunshine,” with The Mike Curb Congregation.)The set also contains fan-favorite album cuts, such as ‘”Outlaw Women,” “Dinosaur,” “The Blues Man” and concert favorite “My Name Is Bocephus,” which originally appeared on his million-selling 1986 set Montana Café. The fourth disc of A Country Boy Can Survive focuses on Williams’ legendary live show, including performances of such classics as “I’m For Love” and “If Heaven Ain’t A Lot Like Dixie,” as well as the iconic title cut–which will celebrate its’ thirty-fifth anniversary in 2017.
The set is available at Walmart, flyt.it/HankJr
With the holiday season in full swing, UMe has several new Christmas collections sure to get you in the spirit and to soundtrack all your yuletide festivities. With classics on vinyl, new CD and digital compilations and an official Spotify playlist, there’s truly something for everyone in every format preferred by you or the ones on your good list.
In honor of Capitol Records’ 75th anniversary, A Capitol Christmas presents some of the most cherished holiday classics from Capitol’s vast catalog and legendary artists. Available now digitally, on CD and as a double LP housed in a gatefold package, the 24-track album brings together beloved Christmas songs from Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby and many more. Liner notes by compilation producer Jay Landers tell the story of each song in beautiful detail. Order and stream A Capitol Christmas: UMe.lnk.to/ACapitolChristmas
The album that started an international movement is now available back on vinyl. Released 29 years ago in 1987, A Very Special Christmas, Vol. 1 brought together some of the biggest musicians of all time for a holiday album to support the Special Olympics and their mission. Founded by David Geffen, the first in the AVSC series featured a who’s who of artists including Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, Whitney Houston, Madonna, John Cougar Mellencamp, Alison Moyet, Stevie Nicks, The Pointer Sisters, The Pretenders, Run–D.M.C., Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, U2 and The Eurythmics contributing a variety of seasonal staples along with original songs. With their iconic covers by Keith Haring, the A Very Special Christmas album series has become a perennial favorite on the radio and for holiday celebrations over the years.
Since 1987, the A Very Special Christmas album series has changed lives through generating over $123.4 million in royalties in direct support of Special Olympics programs, thanks to the generosity of top internationally acclaimed recording artists. Since its inception, more than $70 million has helped support 159 countries and territories resulting in more than five million new athletes participating in and benefiting from Special Olympics year-round sports training and competition programs. Each successive album in the series has honored the quality of its predecessors with timeless recordings of holiday music by some of the most influential and talented artists of their time. Order and streamA Very Special Christmas, Vol. 1: UMe.lnk.to/AVerySpecialXmasVol1PR
NOW That’s What I Call Music!’s festive new holiday collection, NOW That’s What I Call Merry Christmas, brims with 20 evergreen holiday favorites spanning more than 60 years, from Nat King Cole, Burl Ives, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby & David Bowie, and Elvis Presley to Wham!, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Pentatonix, Justin Bieber and Josh Groban. Order and stream NOW That’s What I Call Merry Christmas: now.lnk.to/MerryChristmasPR
For more music to get you in the mood for the holiday season, UMe has you covered with the ideal Christmas playlist. The 70-song collection features some of the biggest songs and artists in the holiday music canon and pairs timeless classics from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Vince Guaraldi Trio with modern staples from Michael Bublé, Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, Diana Krall, Dave Koz, Mariah Carey, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Sam Smith, Mary J. Blige and many others for an eclectic and festive playlist sure to be the perfect soundtrack for your holidays. Stream the playlist on Spotify: smarturl.it/UMeXmasPlaylist
And so the music is flowing, from A to Z, with the emphasis on Z . . . as in “Zappa.” Following this month’s release of three new Frank Zappa albums, the Zappa Family Trust and UMe are continuing their extensive reissue campaign by releasing five iconic works of the musical innovator on vinyl for the first time in decades: Cruising With Ruben & The Jets, Joe’s Garage, Lumpy Gravy, Weasels Ripped My Fleshand We’re Only In It For The Money. The albums spanning Zappa’s incredibly fertile late ’60s-late ’70s period will be pressed on 180-gram vinyl. Talk about rockin’ around the Christmas tree!
Jimmy Buffett has a brand new Christmas record guaranteed to get you in the holiday mood. Tis The SeaSon, released on Mailboat Records, features many classic Christmas favorites, as well as three new songs written especially for the album.
The 13-track record also includes an updated Parrothead version of “The 12 Days Of Christmas.” Be warned.
What verve! On Sarah McLachlan: Wonderland McLachlan sings classic Christmas songs including Winter Wonderland, O Come All Ye Faithful, Let It Snow, Silver Bellsand more. Her signature voice and gorgeous arrangements make this a perfect holiday album.
The reissue of the 2-disc Christmas With Pavarotti (Decca) features some of the most beloved Christmas recordings from star tenor Luciano Pavarotti, including “O Holy Night,” “Panis Angelicus,” “Oh Tannenbaum,” among other arias and songs.
Christmastime in New Orleans is a new album featuring some of the Big Easy’s finest jazz musicians in custom instrumental arrangements of holiday including “Silver Bells” & “Jingle Bells,” the latter given a slinky, finger-snapping treatment like none other.
Breaking stereotypical expectations of a ‘seasonal’ album, Voces8’s new Decca release Winterpaints a portrait of the season through a sparse and powerful aural landscape, invoking a meditative, inspiring feeling of solitude and union. The CD includes four world premiere recordings, notably a brand new work “Winter”, written exclusively for the album by award-winning composer Rebecca Dale.
A film as enigmatic as Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 cult classic The Man Who Fell to Earthis always going to conjure up mysteries in its wake and one of the biggest for the past four decades has been the fate of its much-talked-about soundtrack. Long sought after and highly celebrated by fans, the soundtrack of the David Bowie-starring film, has up until now never been available as a body of work. In celebration of the film’s 40th Anniversary and Studiocanal’s 4K theatrical release, UMe is releasing for the very first time the original movie soundtrack, featuring seminal and original pieces by Stomu Yamash’ta and John Phillips, who composed specifically for the film. The full 25-track soundtrack is available now digitally and on CD. On December 16, a 19-track vinyl edition of the soundtrack featuring just Yamash’ta and Phillips’ score will be released as a double LP. For the collectors, a limited edition dual format deluxe box, which pairs the vinyl and CD releases with a 48-page hardback book with rare photos. Order and stream The Man Who Fell To Earth: UMe.lnk.to/TMWFTE A limited collector’s edition arrives on Blu-ray Combo Pack (plus Digital HD) January 24 from Lionsgate Home DVD.
Theatre queens, die-hard fans of show music and those who simply cannot listen, not even for one more second, rap, rock or hip . . . enter Broadway Records. Van Dean is the mastermind behind masterful CDs, especially his series of evenings taped live from Studio 54/Below (which also goes under the name of the highly overrated MF). Santa baby, if you cannot bring us the inimitable Charles Busch Tony nominee and drag legend (so brilliant in AuntieMame), then we’ll take Charles Busch–Live at Feinstein’s/54 Below. On the CD, Busch brings his unique blend of songs both contemporary and from the pas. As our pal, New York Times critic Stephen Holden, raves “He has the gift of comic gab like few other entertainers. Innately funny, endearing and acutely intelligent, he also has claws. For an audience, the possibility of being scratched, although remote, lends his humor a bracing edge.” PS) Charles returns to Feinstein’s/54 Below on New Year’s Eve at 7 p.m. Hey, Santa . . .
Carmen Cusack’s debut album, If You Knew My Story, is brimming with the deeply emotional stories and songs that brought her to Broadway. Carmen has been widely recognized for her sensitivity to past pains and joys during each moment onstage. After her time on London’s West End as Fantine in Les Misérablesand Christine inThe Phantom of the Opera, Carmen toured as the leading lady of both Wicked and South Pacific before arriving on Broadway as Alice Murphy in Bright Star, earning her a Tony Award nomination for her Broadway debut. The album includes songs cut from Bright Star, as well as duets with Katie Rose Clark, Joe Jung, Paul Telfer and Grammy Award winner Edie Brickell.
Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp celebrate their 20-year friendship with Acoustically Speaking: 20 Years of Friendship–Live from Feinstein’s/54 Below. The intimate unplugged show feature songs that have influenced their lives. Recorded over eight nights in October 2016, Adam and Anthony strip down songs fans know and love, while also offering new and familiar stories of their lives, careers and friendship. Featuring songs from Memphis, Sweeney Todd, Cabaret, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Once and much more, Acoustically Speaking is the perfect celebration of two decades of friendship.
Two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz (and star of Netflix’s acclaimed series, Bloodline) has followed up his critically lauded first album Memory & Mayhem–Live at 54 Below with Girls, Girls, Girls (Live at 54 Below), a live album of the show that The New York Times hailed as “brilliantly audacious . . . deeper and richer than any conventional Broadway musical.” Inspired by Greek female deities, the show illustrates the treatment of women in classical myth and contemporary society. The song selections range from Loretta Lynn and Elvis Costello to Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Johnny Cash.
Set in the wildest decade ever, Disaster!delivered earthquakes, tidal waves, infernos and unforgettable ’70s hits like “Knock on Wood,” “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Sky High,” “I Am Woman” and “Hot Stuff”–plus, and outrageous cast of Tony winners. Audiences and critics went wild for this hilarious homage to the era of bell-bottoms, platform shoes and the hustle. From the moment the glitter ball started spinning, there was dancing in the seats . . . and rolling in the aisles.
Jay Armstrong Johnson blew the roof off of Feinstein’s/54 Below with his personal eclectic solo show. Broadway Records has released Jay Armstrong Johnson–Live at Feinstein’s/54 Below, his debut album capturing the electric show, featuring songs from Broadway to radio pop to gospel, with fresh arrangements, a full all-star band, and duets with Todrick Hall, Lindsay Mendez and Billy Lewis Jr. Expect everything from Sondheim to Dixie Chicks.