The Legend of Georgia McBride – Review by Geary Danihy

What will you do to make a buck, especially when your wife is expecting your first child? Would you consider putting on a dress, a wig and vamping it up in front of an audience? Well, that’s the decision Casey has to make in the delightful “Legend of Georgia McBride” now playing at TheaterWorks under the wise direction of Rob Ruggiero. The show, written by Matthew Lopez, is definitely a crowd-pleaser – there was laughter throughout and by the end of the evening members of the audience had their arms in the air and were swaying back and forth in their seats.

Casey (Austin Thomas) doesn’t have many options. Besides his wife, Jo (Samaria Nixon-Fleming), being pregnant, his Elvis impersonation at a local bar is not bringing in a lot of money, which means there are multiple wolves at the door. Looking to boost patronage, the bar owner, Eddie (J. Tucker Smith) books a drag queen act consisting of Miss Tracy Mills (Jamison Stern) and Rexy (Nik Alexander). The only problem is, Rexy has a slight (!) drinking problem. With her all but comatose, Tracy turns to Casey to fill out the act. Reluctant and totally unaware of the nuances of the drag scene, Casey agrees, and thus begins the legend of how Casey becomes “Georgia McBride”. What follows is a lip-syncing, camp festival accentuated by some bravura performances.

Central to the evening’ enjoyment is the relationship between Miss Tracy, the somewhat world-weary yet wise drag queen, and Casey, who is initially clueless, as is evident in his first appearance on stage in drag doing an Edith Piaf number with all the skill and panache of an eight-year-old in a grade-school performance. Totally self-conscious, Casey, under Miss Tracy’s tutelage, starts to get with the drag program, and part of the evening’s entertainment is watching this transformation as Casey finds and accepts his “inner woman.” So successful is he at this that, when Jo finally learns what he is doing and confronts him, one of her major complaints is “You’re prettier than I am.”

As enjoyable as Casey’s transformation is, it’s Miss Tracy who owns this show, not only for the character’s zingers and often arched eyebrows, but Stern does several marvelous turns, one of them as Liza Minelli/Judy Garland (it’s touching and also a bit bittersweet – and snarky) and then, in the “I Enjoy Being a Girl” number, there are multiple – well, what might you call them? Inserts? Freeze-frames? – when he delivers classic “bitch woman” lines from such films as “All About Eve.” This number alone is worth the price of admission.

Lopez doesn’t give the actress playing Jo much to work with – she’s basically the bedeviled wife along for the ride – and the Rexy character (Alexander also plays, convincingly, the next-door neighbor Jason) is something of a stereotype until he/she gets to lace into Casey near the end of the show, challenging him to, oddly enough, “man-up” if he is going to embrace drag. However, most of the writing is witty and dead-on, and a confrontation between Miss Tracy and Casey, set against just a motel room’s door (wise choice on the part scenic designer Paul Tate dePoo III) gives a certain gravitas to the characters’ relationship.

“Georgia McBride” has the feel of ABBA’s “Momma Mia” and Stephen Elliot’s “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” though it’s set in Florida rather than Greece or Australia. There’s also more than a touch of “La Cage aux Folles,” here, but that’s not a bad thing. In all, “Georgia McBride” is a delightful romp, a gender-bending exercise in shtick and camp that touches the heart. Those of a younger generation (and there were quite a few in the audience the night I saw the show) may not get all of the allusions but there’s enough there for everyone to enjoy.

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” runs through April 22. For tickets or more information call 860-527-7838 or go to www.theaterworkshartford.org

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