BWW Review: THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE at TheaterWorks
Since ancient times, men have been dressing up as women to perform in a variety of settings. From ancient Japanese theater to Shakespeare's classics, a man in drag was something one just came to expect from the theatre. But in modern times, dressing in drag has taken on a much different meaning. For those who don a wig and strap on a fabulous pair of heels, drag is an escape from reality, a visceral and visual protest performed with a shiny, and often irreverent veneer. But, at its core, drag is about creating an outlet to overcome personal fears, anxieties, and shortcomings, in a larger than life way. These themes, and more, are on display in TheaterWorks newest production of Matthew Lopez' THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE.
THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE tells the story of Casey (Austin Thomas), a young, down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator who finds himself with no money, a pregnant wife, and a lack of direction in his life. When Eddie (J. Tucker Smith), the owner of the bar Casey performs in decides to bring in a couple of drag queens to try and improve business, Casey finds himself without a gig and a landlord knocking on his door. In a twist of fate, Rexy (Nik Alexander), one of the newly hired queens becomes incapacitated (due to a very large amount of vodka) and newly arrived "queen bee", Miss Tracy Mills (Jamison Stern) finds herself without a partner to perform with. With some quick thinking, a dress, a wig and a whole lot of makeup, Casey transforms into a new drag superstar, Georgia McBride. But though the money starts rolling in, Casey's wife, Jo (Samaria Nixon-Fleming) is in the dark regarding his new persona, setting everyone up for a serious amount of drama.
One of the clear themes of THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE is discovering your passion and overcoming your fears, something at the heart of drag itself. Casey finds, in Georgia, a way to tap into his love of performing while becoming someone who is better, stronger, and more self-confident. Unlike Elvis, his original "role", Georgia is someone that Casey creates from the ground up, discovering her style (leather, lace and a lot of fringe), her sound (think Shania Twain or Reba McEntire) and her personality (a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll), all under the watchful eye of Miss Tracy Mills. On this journey to drag superstardom, Casey learns the importance of being true to himself and following his heart.
As Casey, Austin Thomas has a few strong moments, particularly in his awkward first steps in Georgia's size 13 heels. When given the chance to sing the one original song in the show, "Lost and Found", Mr. Thomas shows off a beautiful voice (making one wish there were more opportunities for him to sing in the show). Samaria Nixon-Fleming portrays Jo as a flustered and fearful mother-to-be. Her character is not as developed or explored as others in the play, but the scenes that she does have, provide some tension for Casey and his newfound career. J. Tucker Smith is believable as the bar-owner, Eddie, though more loveable than gruff. As Rexy, Nik Alexander provides some of the funnier and more poignant moments in the play. Mr. Alexander powerfully delivers Rexy's monologue where she shares with Casey that she did not choose drag, drag chose her and that "drag is a raised fist inside a sequined glove." It is a reminder of the origins (and even dangers) of the lifestyle - and its power to redeem and transform. But Miss Tracy Mills, as portrayed by Jamison Stern, is the real standout performance of THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE. Mr. Stern finds a subtle balance between Tracy's attitude and her heart, taking Casey under wing and encouraging him to find himself by bringing Georgia to life. On top of that, Tracy's drag numbers are some of the funniest and more entertaining of the evening (not to mention her fabulous costumes and wigs.)
Matthew Lopez' script is not perfect, but it does have some funny moments and is appropriately touching when it needs to be. Casey and Jo's conversations do sometimes lack a bit of realism, but those are made up for by the queens' banter and Rexy's aforementioned monologue, which is poignant and poetic. For THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE, Rob Ruggiero's direction is strong, utilizing the intimate TheaterWorks space to his advantage, giving the audience what feels like a real drag show in a dive bar somewhere in Florida. Mr. Ruggiero's experience directing large musicals comes in handy with this show, for though it is technically a play, it feels very much like a musical, which, works well. Ralph Perkins' choreography (for the numerous drag performances) is simple, yet effective, and Paul Tate DePoo's scenic design transforms TheaterWorks space into a functional club with effective and seamless transitions backstage and into Casey and Jo's apartment. Leon Dobkowski's costumes are thrilling, with too many brilliant choices to name all of them. Favorites include Tracy's full length floral gown for her most memorable number and Rexy's illuminating fur coat in the finale. Ed Chapman's sound design elevates the queens' soundtrack (from standards to modern pop/country) to an appropriate level and Mark Adam Rampmeyer's wigs are outstanding (Miss Tracy Mills' in particular), especially considering how quickly some of them have to come on and off.
All in all, TheaterWorks' THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE is a fun and entertaining evening of theatre. For the uninitiated, it provides a taste of the drag life with its highs and lows, in a serviceable and relatable way. It also effectively brings to light Casey's struggles (something many can relate to) and his ability to find an unconventional, yet thrilling solution via the larger than life persona of Miss Georgia McBride.
THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE runs at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT through April 22. TheaterWorks is located at 233 Pearl Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For more information call 860-527-7838 or go to twhartford.org.
Mid Photo: Jamison Stern
Photo credits: Lanny Nagler