Review Roundup: THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA McBRIDE Opens Off-Broadway

Dave Thomas Brown, recently of Heathers: The Musical at New World Stages, leads a cast that also includes Wayne Duvall (O Brother Where Art Thou?, Leatherheads), Matt McGrath (Cabaret, Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Keith Nobbs (Lombardi, "The Black Donnellys") and Afton C. Williamson ("Nashville," "Homeland"), in Matthew Lopez's The Legend of Georgia McBride, opening tonight, September 9, 2015 at MCC Theater.

The production is directed by Mike Donahue (The Wolfe Twins) with choreography by Paul McGill (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), set design by Tony Award Winner Donyale Werle(Peter and the Starcatcher), costumes byAnita Yavich (Venus in Fur), hair and makeup by Jason Hayes (Casa Valentina), lighting by Ben Stanton (Fun Home), sound design by Jill DuBoff (Hand to God) and casting by Will Cantler/Telsey + Company.

How can an Elvis impersonator become a winning drag queen in the Florida Panhandle? With an empty bank account and a pregnant wife, Casey's going to have to answer that question fast in this music-filled comedy about finding your true voice. The Legend of Georgia McBride marks the MCC Theater debuts of playwright Lopez and director Donahue.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: A young Elvis impersonator barely eking out a living finds an unlikely path to prosperity in "The Legend of Georgia McBride," a stitch-in-your-side funny, if improbable, new comedy by Matthew Lopez...Lopez certainly displays a remarkable range...With its straight-man-in-drag conceit, and quips flying like shuttlecocks between Tracy and Rexy, the play sometimes assumes the artificial air of a sitcom...But the playwright has a plush line in funny-bitchy repartee. There's as much richly catty humor here as in a full season of "RuPaul's Drag Race," along with some clever pop-culture gags -- "The Sound of Music" joke alone is worth the price of admission...And the performances, under the snappy direction of Mike Donahue, are, as might be said backstage (or onstage) at a drag show, totally flawless. Watching Mr. Brown's Casey move from laid-back country boy to glittering, acid-tongued drag performer is a delight...Most impressively, while drag queens have practically become stock characters in pop culture, Mr. McGrath imbues his version with a life-hardened authenticity underneath the garish wig and the cracking makeup; there isn't a trace of caricature in his portrayal of the sweetly maternal Tracy. Mr. Lopez has naturally given Tracy the play's choicest bons mots, but Mr. McGrath also achieves the signal feat of making Tracy's flip wit feel spontaneous and fresh.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: Featuring enough amusingly bitchy one-liners and energetic musical numbers to be a genuine crowd-pleaser, the play is frothy to the extreme, a show for people who find Mamma Mia! heavy lifting. But its relentless silliness is sweet and amiable enough to make it go down easy...Making a major stylistic departure from his previous work The Whipping Man...Lopez demonstrates an equally stellar gift for amusing dialogue and farcical humor. While not all the one-liners land...the ratio of hits to misses is admirable. Brown is boyishly appealing in the title role, tearing into his drag routines with gusto and looking gorgeous as his female persona. McGrath is even better as his drag queen mentor, investing his portrayal with equal amounts of hilarious bitchery and hard-won dignity...Director Mike Donahue's staging is sleek and fast-paced...Despite its earnest message of tolerance, The Legend of Georgia McBride is too lightweight to register as anything more than a mild diversion. But it's highly entertaining nonetheless.

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: A Queer Eye for the Straight Guy version of Tootsie, Matthew Lopez's feel-good comedy delivers many of the diversions that its premise suggests. Directed by Mike Donahue, on a terrific set by Donyale Werle, the production features silly-glam costumes and snappy one-liners for the queens, an amusing learning-curve montage for our hero and several zippy musical numbers, including a delightful show-tune medley. And McGrath is soup-to-nuts wonderful as Tracy: seasoned, sympathetic and shrewdly funny. But the other characters rarely get beyond the formulaic beats of the plot. Presented in 100 straight minutes, the play seems like a truncated version of something fuller and more specific. The foundation is there; the shading needs work.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Necessity is the mother of reinvention in "The Legend of Georgia McBride," a predictable but irresistible crowd-pleaser by rising writer Matthew Lopez...Lopez works in a lighter vein here -- but not a slighter one. Chasing buzzy themes of identity and transformation, "Georgia McBride" is by turns sweet and salty and deceptively deep. Scenes between Casey and Jo are filled with tenderness. Knowing nods to "Gypsy," "My Fair Lady" and "A Chorus Line" add to the fun in director Mike Donahue's fast-paced staging. Lopez's latest play may not make him a legend, but it confirms his status as a writer worth hearing from.

Matt Windman, AM New York: Can't a straight guy put on heels, lipstick and a padded bra, lip-synch to Dolly Parton and become an overnight drag sensation without having his sexuality called into question or facing accusations of misappropriating gay culture? Such is the intriguing scenario explored by Matthew Lopez...in his heartfelt, feel-good comedy "The Legend of Georgia McBride"...It takes some time for the play...to make its way through the exposition. But once it gets going, some very funny exchanges and polished drag sequences follow, plus a spirited defense of drag as a form of cultural protest and a way of life. McGrath is terrific as Miss Tracy Mills, a witty and aging drag queen, while Brown credibly tracks Casey's progression as a performer.

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: To thine own self be true. Some fake breasts and fabric tape might also help. That's the feelgood moral of Matthew Lopez's charming, trivial The Legend of Georgia McBride, about a young southern scamp who finally becomes a man when he becomes a woman...Lopez's former play, The Whipping Man, made effective use of writerly formula in large part because the setting and characters were so surprising...But the world of Georgia McBride is a lot more familiar and so the storyline feels somewhat canned, especially as the play veers away from anything too controversial...the play wimps out, leaving questions of gender and sexuality uncomplicated and unexplored. All of this would be more frustrating were it not for the cheerful abandon with which director Mike Donahue and his cast plan and execute the musical numbers. McGrath, long reliable as a character actor, is a particular wonder, especially in a terrifying medley that jumbles pretty much every Broadway ballad and some pop ones, too. His Tracy is an utter caricature, though always somehow sympathetic and credible.

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Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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