Review: THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE at The Barnstormers

Drag queens rock through July 23

By: Jul. 15, 2022
Review: THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE at The Barnstormers

Who would believe that a show about an Elvis impersonator turned drag queen could be such a hit in the middle of New Hampshire's summer theater season?

That is exactly what is happening in The Legend of Georgia McBride the second production in The Barnstormers 92nd season in Tamworth. This gem of a theater is historic as one of the first summer theaters in the nation that continues performances today. It is nestled in what can only be described as a picturesque New England hamlet. (Not to be confused with Shakespeare's play!)

Although it starts a bit slow and chatty, this show finds its groove to become a genderbending farce that delights in a lighthearted and sometime poignant tribute to the art of drag. A tight cast of five actors give a well-paced performance as it explores why a man would earn a living dressing up as a woman on stage.

Director, Taylor Shubert, balances the show perfectly giving the audience a look into the issues of being straight or gay, how people make life changing decisions, and how people remain true to themselves.

Casey (Jordan Ahnquist) is a down on his luck Elvis impersonator in a small-town Florida bar. He performs to dwindling audiences as he contends with overdue rent payments and a wife, Jo (Kira Sarai Helper) who finds herself pregnant.

The bar owner, Eddie (George F. Piehl) makes the decision to fire Casey only to be replaced by two drag queens, Miss Tracy Mills (Brian Charles Rooney) and Miss Rexy (Dyllan Vallier) also known as Anna Rexy Nervosa. Their flamboyant style, over the top stage antics and outrageous costumes are a hit for the bar and Casey demoted to working the bar rather than donning the Elvis jumpsuit.

It is soon discovered that Miss Rexy can't hold her liquor and during a performance when she passes out, a somewhat reluctant Casey agrees to step in as Tracy's drag partner "for one night."

"Every man has some femininity, you just gotta know where to look," says Miss Tracy as she transforms Casey to portray French chanteuse, Edith Piaf, with an accentuated derriere, make up and a wig, and, of course, fake boobs.

To everyone's surprise, Casey is a hit in drag as audiences pack the bar and his cash flow returns. "It's just a part, right?" Casey tells himself basking in the newfound attention but not confident enough to disclose his new career to wife, Jo, and brother Jason (double duty performance by Dyllan Vallier).

The contrast between backstage action and onstage performances rules the evening. The lip sync segments are entertaining with an array of gaudy costumes and some cheeky choreography.

Piehl is the ornery bar owner who starts out as a bumbling emcee when introducing the Elvis performances. As the drag shows become an overnight success, Piehl transforms to a high energy and extremely polished stage announcer. Piehl's performance is great and amusing.

Helper is at her best when she discovers her husband's stage secret while catching a glimpse of his act. As she breaks out in tears, seemingly distressed by his new profession, she creates one of the show's best moments declaring her reaction to the news, "You're prettier than me!"

Rooney is brilliant as the mentoring drag diva. Their all at once bold and brassy when needed and quite thoughtful and reflective about their life as they introduce Casey to the drag world. Rooney keeps a wonderful balance between masculine and feminine in a role that is very realistic and believable. They also take some great moments with ad libbing at choice moments during the show especially when Casey has a wardrobe malfunction or when a prop piece of money is found on stage. They are so comfortable in the role, and it shows.

Vallier, too, shines as the not so sober Rexy. He is on point in drag with high heels and wigs while also comfortable as the easy going, very masculine property owner. In a show that never gets preachy about alternative lifestyles, Vallier owns the one scene exception as he describes to Casey the reality of a homophobic world and the meaning of drag. It was emotional, well placed, and wonderfully performed.

Behind all the zingers, grit, and glamour, Lopez delivers a strong message on tolerance for the entire spectrum of human sexuality, while creating a barrelful of fun in the process.

Ahnquist is the energy that drives this unusual little show. His journey from clumsily lip-synching Edith Piaf to being a hot drag commodity is skillful and fun. He wonderfully portrays a "real guy" who finds himself in a world that is very foreign to him. He makes a leap of faith into that world to regain his sense of purpose and his determination to accept who he is. His scenes with Rooney are among the show's best.

Unfortunately, I was not as inspired by the staging and lighting.

I fail to see how performers find themselves in unlit parts of the stage. Here, actors often get lost in darkness even when spotlights are available. Not sure why that happens.

Also, I fail to see the need for clunky set changes in a show that has only three locations. There's Casey's apartment, and the bar, both backstage and performance stage. The multiple movements of the Casey kitchen and sofa was distracting at best. The movement of the clothes rack and makeup table was even more troubling and painful to watch only to result in a reverse move only minutes later.

Consider better staging. The show won't be any less because you didn't have a real refrigerator on stage, and you'll cut the running time by a few minutes with smoother transitions.

The show has an unexpectedly creative curtain call that's only outdone by the unique way that Casey gets his drag queen name, Georgia McBride.

This show might be the best hidden gem in a bright summer theater season. Truly, drag queens rock.

The show runs through July 23.