BWW Interview: Denver Center's Matt McGrath on Making GEORGIA MCBRIDE a Legend!
Matt McGrath, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy theatrical schedule to speak with me and BroadwayWorld today.
So I know that you have been to Denver before for the reading of Georgia at the New Playwright's summit...What do you think of our fair city?
Oh, it's great! Being a part of this cast is a real joy and the fact that they picked two of the plays that we did from last year's summit to be a part of this year's season is just so great. You knew how well it went over just by the reactions and how a lot of the people who saw the reading are turning up now and saying how thrilled they are to see the production of something they really enjoyed so much.
Have you worked with the Denver Center Theater Company?
This is my first time working with the company. It's my first time in Denver since being really young. It's a thriving community, it seems, and a great place to live.
What are your thoughts on your cast of Georgia McBride?
Oh they're horrible! (laughter) No, I'm kidding. You know, it's been a really long time since I have dropped everything and just told everybody that I know, you know, sending emails and telling everyone that you have to see these three actors - Ben Huber, Jamie Ann Romero and Nick Mills. Its great building something together like this and with the playwright Matthew Lopez, Will Taylor as the choreographer and director, Mike Donahue, who made us feel like the building blocks are there. We've had a luxurious time in terms of the length of rehearsal, because it was little bit longer. I believe five weeks is the usual, and we really needed that because so many things were happening and so many things are happening backstage. You know there were times when we needed like a three minute change and we only had a one minute change. Then you might get an eight minute change and then you were like, "Oh my god, I'm going to read the newspaper!" (laughter). But it moves fast and the play and the audience just kind of get swept up in it. It's just perfectly constructed by Matthew Lopez and brilliantly kept at a pace by Mike Donahue that is both enjoyable and breathtaking.
Can you talk to me a little bit about your role in this fabulous show?
So the first time you see me I am coming on stage as Miss Tracy Mills, this female and I'm coming to this... my kind of busted up bar and it's on its last leg. So we decide to turn the place into a gay bar and have a drag show. You know, to really boost the interest. So it is a renovation and Tracy loves nothing but a renovation. So she meets the challenge and what she stumbles upon is somebody who is down on his luck who doesn't get to do his Elvis impersonation anymore at the bar, which was not bringing any customers in. So we first start him off as bartender. When Miss Rexy falls ill, he is quickly put to work by Tracy as the other drag queen in the show, cuz I can't do it all by myself. He steps up to the challenge and he makes some money for his wife and soon to be mother of his child. And it all stems from there, how it unfolds and where he takes it. It really becomes kind of like a rite of passage for somebody who is realizing their potential and achieving it.
Tell me about your drag experience that you have had to get ready for this show?
I knew from doing the summit last year that they were interested in me doing this production. I kind of booked myself out for this period because I really wanted to do this play so badly. I knew it would be quite a challenge. Because I had been doing Hedwig at the Jane Street Theatre which we can argue that it's not traditional drag per say, it's not just drag, you're really playing a character. It's a character that is abashed at transgender, and he's a little bit dead in the play. Tracy is full of life. Tracy has feelings and emotions and has the highs and lows of what it is to live a life on The Edge here and really needs to make that buck to get by. She's up for the challenge always. So in terms of doing this drag queen, we wanted to make a real life character but also in it was this person who is just at the top of her game.
Is there a certain drag queen or person in your life that you are channeling when you perform as Ms. Tracy Mills?
Not really. In the year that I have had, I have just been kind of mulling over who this person is and where she's from and things like that. So I've been trying things out and now that we're doing the play I've come to sit with it. You want to have a nice differential between the conservative brother of Casey, who I also have to play, and you want it to draw those lines of distinction clearly. I also did The Rocky Horror Show recently, playing Dr. Frank-n-furter, and for that role I had to train for in heels because I was called in to take over that role rather quickly. I had seven days to learn the dance numbers and, you know, doing them in a four and a half inch heel was kind of like, wow! That's a race to get it done like that. So there is this technical aspect and then there's the kind of getting lost in the persona so that you can really pull it off. It's been challenging and thrilling at the same time.
What do you hope audiences take from this production?
I think that my character, Tracy, is not someone to be afraid of. Even though her hard exterior and her lifestyle that might be kind of out there, you get a gimpse into what she values - almost living moment to moment to survive. Her basic wants are for a pretty simple life, just to be happy and to be content and to not really have anything that anybody else would want.
Why do you think that this play is important for audiences to see, whether gay or straight?
I think that it is a unique rite of passage story. Metaphorically it's more than just a gay community, or a drag, or a transgender community. Its' people who are there to entertain, and that's classically what drag is. The actual word drag is from Shakespeare, "Dressed As Girl", is what he would write in the margins when boys would play girls. So that's what it is, it's The Players, it's the entertainer, and it should be viewed as that.
So...odd but interesting question for you - For me, this show has a sort of reverse acceptance - whereas the homosexuals have always asked for acceptance and approval from heterosexuals, but now a straight man in a dress is asking to be taken seriously in the gay culture as a drag queen. Thoughts?
We do see kind of the behind the scenes of that story. We don't really see the community's reaction, except that they're willing to show up and compete. Whether it's a novelty to them or whether this is where this can go. Transvestites have mostly been statistically, I think, heterosexual men. People that are identified as straight. So drag is different, drag isn't necessarily gay men and their iconic women that they relate to. So it's fascinating because it is something that he can fulfill his need to perform with now that he can't do his Elvis impersonation. The acceptance of that, and I think his journey, is that he works at it really hard. You see this person trying to excel at this and what's the difference if he's going to be a computer programmer and go to the trouble of trying how to figure out how to do that. It's really a lot of work to get there and to be proficient and in the end you see an artist rather than a person with sexual confusion.
Now a couple of fun questions for you - If you were not doing theater in a parallel universe, what would you be doing?
There hasn't been any other path. I've been doing it my whole life and I am really fortunate that I have always known what I have wanted to do. I also feel lucky, of course you have fantasies of being an underwater welder or something. I grew up in Manhattan and I've always lived in New York. Right now, currently I'm outside of New York and I'm living at the beach and it's a change and I am very fortunate to say that I am doing that. I have friends in my life and that's been really rewarding. But at the same time I have been working the entire time and so I have had the best of both worlds.
Is there a play or musical that you absolutely adore and would perform in over and over again....I think I already know the answer to this question?
Besides this one? I just want to do this one for the rest of my life until they actually have to take the role away from me and yank the wig off my head. (laughter) I always joke around and say, "I hope John Mahoney enjoys playing my role in the movie!" (laughter) You know, I am fortunate enough to pick and choose the projects that I want to do. I get to do some real fun ones, from Cabaret, to Hedwig, to Rocky Horror in really amazing productions.
Is there a dream role that you have always wanted to play?
I really like creating new work and originating new characters and opening up what's inside of him (or her) and how you can create that player.
I absolutely adored you in The Broken Hearts Club, now if this show were to be made into a movie and if you were not available (of course)- who would you envision playing Ms.Tracy Mills?
I think my Broken Hearts co-star John Mahoney, although he may not want to do it (laughter). Oh gosh, do I want to play the Hollywood game? It gets so ridiculous. I don't think they'd have trouble finding anybody, it's such a great role and you get to wear so much fun stuff.
What's next for you after this?
Next, I've been really fortunate to be workshopping a new musical with Kirk Ashley .We just did the first act of a new work before I came here but I can't say what it is. I've also been asked to do another workshop on a new musical and I am really looking forward to that!
Again thank you so much for speaking with me and BroadwayWorld today and I simply adored you in the world premiere of THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE!
You do not want to miss THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE , captivating audiences now through February 23rd on the Ricketson Theatre of the Denver Center. For tickets or more information on this fabulous show, contact the Denver Center Ticket Services by calling 303-893-4100 or online at www.denvercenter.org.
Photo Credit: Jennifer M Koskinen (above) and Alexandra Griesmer (below)
Matt McGrath and Michael Mulhern