BWW Review: The Milwaukee Rep Stages a Must-See Drag Show in THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE
Milwaukee, have your dollar bills handy! Though it's only been on stage since 2014, Matthew Lopez's Georgia McBride is on its way to becoming a bonafide dragtastic legend. Now on stage at the Milwaukee Rep, under the fantastic direction of Meredith McDonough, the heat and heart in this play about an Elvis impersonator turned drag queen is the uplifting, energizing show audiences need right now.
The Legend of Georgia McBride is the story of Casey, the aforementioned Elvis impersonator, who works at a seedy nightclub in Florida. In an attempt to liven up the joint, the gruff bar owner hires a couple of drag queens and says adios to Elvis. The problem: Casey has a wife at home, a baby on the way, and overdue rent to pay. Desperate, the former King becomes a queen, and the show goes on to be a sequined, feathered confection.
Kevin Kantor, last seen at the Rep in the heart-wrenching Things I Know to be True, does a one-eighty in this exuberant, joyful tale of acceptance and fabulosity. Their montage-style transformation from straight man to drag queen - from "Who is Edith Pilaf?!" to fervidly lip-syncing "Padam Padam" -- is seamlessly staged and a delight to behold. Kantor sells the loving-husband side of Casey to be sure, but they're at their best when dressed in drag. Theirs is a phenomenally glittering, firecracker performance, full of glorious capes, wigs, and high-kicks to "Woo!" over.
The incoming act features veteran drag queen Miss Tracy Mills and her stage partner Rexy, played by Courter Simmons and Armand Fields, respectively. Each of these queens is larger than life in her own way. Tracy is old-school drag in the vein of Judy Garland and Rexy brings the Beyonce. Both Simmons and Fields light up the stage - and the audience -- by their sheer presence. But let's start with Simmons.
Simmons is spectacular beyond belief. In scenes both backstage and in the spotlight, his Tracy is like butter -- smooth, rich, and keeps you craving more. He has so thoroughly fleshed out this character, there's scarcely a whiff of "acting" in his performance. It's hard to pick a favorite moment -- the Judy Garland quick-change number, the leprechaun puppetry, Tracy's dynamic with Casey. It's a toss up because Simmons is just so uniformly impeccable.
Fields' Rexy has a smaller part relative to the other queens, but her impact is no less felt in the story of Georgia McBride. As the hilarious and hot-mess Rexy, Fields gives a powerhouse performance. And I'm not just talking about their killer take on Queen Bey, shade-throwing one-liners, and memorable exits. There's a point in the show where Rexy educates Casey on the deeper meaning of drag -- that it's an act of protest as much as a form of entertainment. Fields' impassioned manifesto hits a necessary nerve and acts as a reminder for us all that drag is about so much more than just the spectacle.
Love must also be given to James Pickering as club owner Eddie and Shavanna Calder as Casey's wife, Jo. Calder's role feels like a bit of an accessory to the plot of Georgia McBride, still she brings warmth, humor, and plenty of spitfire to the part she plays.
As for Pickering, mighty distinguished man of the Milwaukee theater scene that he is, seeing him in the role of Eddie is an all-out blast. The moment he shuffled on stage in his khaki shorts, tight white tank, and flung-open tropical shirt, the audience lost it. Pickering in a trucker hat and a rattail -- who would've thunk!
Finally, I can't conclude a review touting the exceptional nature of the Rep's Georgia McBride without mentioning costumes. Costume Designer Patrick Holt has a side career in drag, and his devotion to this artform is clearly felt in his lavish, joyful designs. The looks he's created from tip to toe are larger than life, full of shocking color and costume reveals that elicit delighted gasps and applause. From a risqué box of chocolates to an ultra-glittering American flag reveal, it's tough to pick a favorite.
To sum it up, The Legend of Georgia McBride is a straight-up world-class drag show with all the glitz and glam -- and a plot to boot. Should you see it? Finger snaps to the high heavens and a big ol' "yaaas queen!" Georgia McBride is only playing at the Rep through February 9th, so slip into your best shapewear and sequins and come out to applaud the best drag show in town.
Photo credit: Michael Brosilow