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A CurtainUp Review
The Legend of Georgia McBride
By Elyse Sommer
Lopez, whose very different The Whipping Man has enjoyed numerous productions ( Review of Manhattan Theater Club production), is an enterprising playwright who's clearly willing to keep exploring new ideas. With The Legend. . . he has written a text that allows for a display of all the trappings of the drag genre's exaggerated razzle dazzle. His dialogue is wickedly amusing and the drag fun is actually driven by a plot that has something to say.
While gay men who like to cross dress probably dominate the drag performance scene, straight drag queens are not a figment of Lopez's imagination but a part of this art form's big picture. Consequently, Casey's trajectory from awkwardly stumbling across the stage in an Edith Piaf get-up to finding his way into his own, starry drag persona is not all that preposterous. As scripted by Lopez it's a genuine and touching story of transformation and acceptance of one's self and very different others.
Naturally, making it work on all levels calls for better than good acting and clockwork direction. This 5-member ensemble and director Mike Donahue more than fill the bill.
The story that brings the straight and born-to-drag characters together plays out in two alternating locations: in the grungy club that has middle-aged Eddie (Wayne Duvall)on the verge of bankuptcy and in Casey and his wife Jo's (Afton Williamson) equally grubby apartment. (Bravo to Donyale Werle for a set that handily accommodates quick change locale shifts and wittily supports the transformation theme sheds plain for glittery pizzazz).
While the love between Casey and Jo is solid, money — or rather lack of it — is a problem. This is exacerbated by his doing impractical things like buying a snazzy new Elvis pants suit even though the little money he earns at Eddie's club comes from bar tending rather than his gig as an Elvis impersonator. The Casey-Jo financial problems become critical with her unplanned pregnancy and a bounced rent check that threatens to make them homeless.
As if things couldn't get worse, Eddie decides to ditch the unprofitable Elvis act and give his cousin Tracy (Matt McGrath) and his sidekick Rexy (Keith Nobbs) a chance to reinvigorate their drag act and the club's attendance. Though their characters are in a decidedly down and out phase, McGrath and Nobbs are sensational.
With Casey staying on board to tend bar and Rexy off on an alcoholic binge, it's not especially surprising that there's a night when Casey becomes Rexy's unwilling stand-in. As unsurprisingly, Rexy's continued no-show forces Casey to continue his diva gig. With Tracy, who sees a drag star in embryo, coaching him it's full steam ahead for Casey's metamorphosis into the sensational Miss Georgia McBride.
Sure enough, Eddie's sparsely attended club becomes a Panama Beach's hot spot, the act becomes increasingly more elaborate — and yes, more and more fun to watch as even Eddie is transformed into a more assured and ever more snappily dressed MC.
Keith Nobbs is of course too good for Rexy not to reappear on scene, though he must now cede to his place to the lovely Miss Georgia's star power. Nobbs is potent in expressing his pain and bitterness at an intolerant world and effectively doubles as Jason, Casey and Jo's landlord.
While Casey gradually but surely embraces the unplanned detour from his Elvis ambition, he puts off revealing this new role to his wife. Sure enough, she's not exactly thrilled when she discovers the reason for their improved finances. But that's where the theme of tolerance gets another workout and makes The Legend of Miss Georgia McBride more than just a campy entertainment.
The transitions between locations of Donyale Werle's already praised set are eased by Ben Stanton's lighting. Additional shoutouts are in order for Paul McGill's animated choreography, Anita Yavich's brilliantly campy costumes as well as Jason Hayes' makeup and wigs.
The hour and 45 minutes fly by and so will this all too brief production. Catch it while you can.