It’s drag to the rescue in playwright Matthew Lopez’s camp comedy The Legend of Georgia McBride, now in production at Arden Theatre Company. Filled with caustic humor, glitz, and music, and witty references to A Star Is Born, The Sound of Music, and The Crying Game, the spirited show sends out a positive message about the need for acceptance and finding your own voice, even under the most challenging of circumstances.
Casey, a broke but ever-optimistic performer with a pregnant wife, is confronted with the choice of losing his job or changing his act, when the proprietor of a faltering club in the Florida panhandle decides to replace his poorly attended show as an Elvis impersonator with a roster of female impersonators. So, at five minutes’ notice, the financially strapped soon-to-be-father switches from Casey,’ glittery jumpsuit into a woman’s dress, wig, make-up, and heels, to take the stage for the suddenly incapacitated drag queen Rexy. Under the maternal tutelage of Tracy Mills–the gender-bending star of the show who takes him under her clean-shaven wing and teaches him the tricks of the trade–the legend of Georgia McBride is born, and Casey transforms his life and career with his lucrative new cross-dressing persona.
Directed by Emmanuelle Delpech, the pace is fast and the blocking is fluid. The characters, in spectacularly tacky (spectackylar!) costumes by Olivera Gajic, move from home to dressing room to curtained club stage, through Set and Sound Designer Jorge Cousineau’s multi-layered movable flats and a soundtrack of pop and disco hits, all brought into focus by Maria Shaplin’s well-aligned lighting. They also employ the aisles of the theater, to engage the audience directly in their up-close drag performances.
Matteo Scammell brings heart and hope to the title role, capturing Casey’s love for both his family and vocation, and nailing the moves of Elvis and, in time, Georgia, in hilarious dancing and voguing segments mentored by Dito van Reigersberg’s seasoned larger-than-life drag sensation Tracy, as choreographed by Melanie Cotton. Mikéah Ernest Jennings is a scene-stealer in his dual polar-opposite roles as Casey’s mild-mannered put-upon landlord Jason, and as the deeply impassioned and heavily imbibing Rexy, who is spot-on in throwing shade, lip-synching, and sashaying to the beat, while heart-wrenching in relaying her poignant backstory and personal definition of what it means to be a real drag queen.
Jessica M. Johnson is Jo, Casey’s expectant and stressed out wife, who is kept in the dark about the source of his dramatically increased income, and triggers the show’s underlying moral when she discovers the truth. And Damien J. Wallace as Eddie portrays his development from an over-extended small-town owner and emcee of a dive bar to a confident impresario of a hit show, wearing ostentatious seasonally-themed outfits as he introduces each holiday performance. They all come together in a fabulous life-affirming finale, where their inner divas come out, they strut their stuff in support of each other, and live draggily ever after.
Despite some hackneyed lines and a hard-to-take joke about rape in Lopez’s script, and the cast’s inconsistent southern accents, lapses in lip-synching, and breaks from character to laugh at their own dialogue, The Legend of Georgia McBride provides an evening of over-the-top fun. It is also an entertaining introduction to the genre of drag cabaret, in the narrative format of a play with music, for traditional theater-going audiences who might not otherwise seek out the experience. It’s all about the joy of acceptance!
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes, without intermission.
The Legend of Georgia McBride plays through Sunday, December 4, 2016, at The Arden Theatre Company’s Arcadia Stage – 40 North 2nd Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 922-1122, or purchase them online.