Review: THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE Caps Solid Season at Arizona Theatre Company

Matthew Lopez's rambunctious play with music returns to Arizona.

By: Jun. 13, 2023
Review: THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE Caps Solid Season at Arizona Theatre Company
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March 2020 marked the beginning of the longest economic disruption in recent history, triggered by a mysterious health crisis that forced the nationwide closure of essential businesses. For those heedless of ATC's truncated season that year, THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE capped an otherwise robust lineup; it opened and closed on the same night as Covid-19 began to sweep the landscape.

Well, Georgia is back. Flamboyant as ever, she blazes a familiar trail like a captive hedonist spoiling for a big splurge. To an anxious audience, there's nothing like a good dose of sassy uproar to nurse grievances and bear the cost of delayed gratification. 

The timing couldn't be better. Though it claims no political agenda, the play punctuates a critical backlash against large-scale violations of LGBTQ rights. Far-right agitators exert moral outrage, leveraging policymakers to wage war against non-conforming gender expressions. If my intuition is correct, GEORGIA's timely return is ATC's potent subtext and a stern caution to bullies: "Nope, Not in Our House." 

That said, I'm loath to call it Matthew Lopez's finest output; that recognition belongs to his Tony Award-winning play, THE INHERITANCE. Nonetheless, the playwright's rousing musical pageant is an implied call to action. The play celebrates the resistance that defines the drag trademark: saucy wordplay, cheeky swag, and a dazzling art form that regales while it flips the symbolic middle finger to society's righteous villains. At once reckless and sunny, the play subverts our perception of gender norms and extols the value of our shared humanity. 

Some people need a polite reminder: Not everyone who does drag is gay. Case in point -- lead character Casey (Kevin Kantor) is a hapless Elvis impersonator whose wife is pregnant with their first baby. Rent is due, but business is slow at Cleo's Bar where he works. When he gets fired from his gig and an incoming drag show presents a rare opportunity, our reluctant straight man takes a leap of faith and becomes a full-blown drag queen. 

Review: THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE Caps Solid Season at Arizona Theatre Company

Soon Casey rolls in the dough, but his wife, Jo (Renea Brown), is clueless about his alternate life. Disgusted at the discovery of his lies, she leaves him. Finally, he convinces her that drag has opened his eyes to the fullness of his identity. They're soon reunited, the money is good, and the baby is healthy.

Indeed not your standard Chekov or Albee fare, and we're confident Lopez meant nothing close to it. Casey and Jo's domestic scenes are redolent of conventional '90s sitcoms, permissible as a theater piece only in this context. Unfortunately, some scene work is prosaic and two-dimensional, a far cry from the spectacularly conceived musical numbers. That may be the point here: Drag scenes are what we came to see. And boy, they don't disappoint.

Kantor is an adorable Casey and a nimble Georgia McBride. Chiseled and supple as they come, Kantor gives us every reason to anticipate a knockout performance worthy of a legend. As the dynamic Georgia, Kantor reveals the only vulnerable moment on stage with a surprise solo number with a guitar -- unplugged, as it were, to showcase the meek and modest human beneath all the makeup and sequins. (We get that Casey doesn't have to be an excellent musician, but someone should be able to tune that guitar before the show.)

Review: THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE Caps Solid Season at Arizona Theatre Company

Renea S. Brown fills in capably as Jo, doting yet conflicted as wife and mother-to-be. Courter Simmons helms this ensemble as Miss Tracy Mills, illustrating the quintessential drag queen for the ages. Armand Fields doubles as drag queen Rexy and landlord Jason -- a brilliant metamorphosis between scenes. James Pickering renders bar owner Eddie with grizzled nonchalance, perhaps the only way to induce the intended laughs. Completing the cast are Marshall Glass and Max Murray. Meredith McDonough directs this sprightly ensemble.

The production's technical aspects are solid: Collette Pollard's scenic work is versatile and functional, enhanced by Paul Toben's articulate lighting design. But the real star here is Patrick Holt's eye-popping costume design. You can't do drag without the lusty and boisterous get-up; Holt's costumes are all that and more.

Whether you're a theatre cognoscente or a novice audience member, give GEORGIA 90 minutes of your time. I promise she won't let you down.

Photo Credit: Tim Fuller

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