September 26, 2015

"The Legend of Georgia McBride" is a Hoot

Sometimes even a serious theatergoer just wants to have fun. At least that's what I was hoping to do when I headed off to see the MCC Theater production of The Legend of Georgia McBride. And that's exactly what I—and, judging by the volume of the laughter—everyone else at the Lucille Lortel Theatre had the night I saw this big-hearted show about a straight guy who finds happiness when he becomes a drag queen.

It's also pretty obvious that playwright Matthew Lopez, the author of The Whipping Man, a dour Civil War drama; and a writer for the overly earnest HBO series "The Newsroom," had a helluva good time when he wrote Georgia McBride.

The show opens as Casey, an Elvis impersonator, is performing his act at a dinky bar on the Florida Panhandle. Casey's got the king's lip snarl and hip swivel down pat but what he doesn't have is a paying audience and so his boss brings in another act, a pair of drag queens named Tracy and Rexy (short for Anorexia Nervosa) and demotes Casey to bartender and general gofer.

The bad news keeps coming. At home, Casey's wife Jo, with whom he's madly in love, tells him that the rent check bounced and that her pregnancy test is positive. So Casey, in desperate need of keeping his job, has little choice when an intoxicated Rexy can't perform one night and he's drafted to replace her.

He's wobbly at first but quickly finds that the high-heel shoes fit. Under Tracy's nurturing tutelage, Casey takes on the drag personae of Georgia McBride and their show begin to pack the bar. Soon Casey's loving the attention he's finally getting and the money he's now earning. The only problem is that he doesn't want Jo to know how he's earning their living or how much he's enjoying what he's doing.

Sprinkled throughout this narrative are full-on numbers from the drag show; what seems to be a "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" homage is deliciously over-the-top. Lopez also supplies a steady stream of belly-laugh-inducing one-liners. And, under the snappy direction of Mike Donahue, all the performances are delightful.

Dave Thomas Brown is particularly appealing as Casey and he and Afton Williamson's Jo make an adorable, and believable, couple. Plus he's a great-looking drag queen.

But it's Matt McGrath who steals the show as the sagacious Tracy, a drag show vet who has learned over the years that you have to grab your joy where and when you can and to temper the joyless times with a wry quip (click here to read a profile of the actor).

You could easily come out of this show, which ends it run Oct. 11, with some thoughts about the changing definitions of manhood in 21st century America whirling around your head. But you're even more likely to walk away, as I did, with a big grin on your face.

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