The Legend of Georgia McBride – Review by Tom Nissley

In a corner of Panama City (Florida) Eddie (J. Tucker Smith) runs a little nightspot that is just squeaking by. Handsome and talented Casey (Austin Thomas) drives 45 miles each night to present his Elvis Pressley impersonation, but it’s not pulling in new customers. Meanwhile, at home, Casey’s wife Jo (Samaria Nixon-Fleming) is pregnant and the two are very much in love. And behind on the rent.

Eddie’s cousin, Miss Tracy Mills (Jamison Stern), an out-of-work drag queen performer looking for a new audience, arrives with companion Anorexia Nervosa – “Rexy” (Nik Alexander), promising to put new life into Eddie’s club, with a new show. That means that Casey will no longer perform as Elvis, but Eddie offers to keep him on as a bar-tender. The new show is pulling in customers, but one night not far into the run, Rexy is so drunk that he/she passes out cold on the dressing room floor before the Edith Piaf number. What to do?

One option is to take poor Casey away from his bartending responsibilities and convince him to go on, not as Elvis, but as a lip-syncing Edith Piaf. So, Miss Tracy Mills gets Casey bound and dressed and wigged, ready to limp out as a sad-looking cross-dresser, to save the show. And they do save the show. All that remains is for Casey to drive 45 miles back home and tell Jo that he is now working as a drag queen. But in fact, he keeps that new twist to himself.

Are there unintended consequences? Oh yes! Jo, whose belly is growing as the pregnancy proceeds, makes a surprise visit to the club one night to encourage what she thinks is still an Elvis gig, and the surprise is on her. There is Casey, fully into his drag costume, looking like a beautiful lady. Jo has questions. Miss Tracy Mills walks quietly away. Casey must explain things he’s not sure about to Jo. He loves her, and… he never quite figured out how to tell her that his new identity as “Georgia McBride” has been paying their bills. He’s a “straight” man living half his life as a “drag queen.” That’s all. !!!

The play achieves a very happy ending, and audiences have been loving it. I’ve already shared too much of the plot; to share more would be unfair. But let’s look at the larger picture. This is a major, fun, production of an intimate play by one of the country’s most honest playwrights. Matthew Lopez (“The Whipping Man,” “Reverberation,” and “Somewhere”) is part Puerto Rican by heritage and lived in Panama City as a schoolboy. He’s raising the question of how many men have ever, secretly or not, imagined what it would be like to be a proud woman instead of who they think they are as men?

The production team includes Rob Ruggiero as producer and director, and Eric Ort as assistant director, Paul Tate dePoo III as set designer, John Lasiter on lighting, Ed Chapman on sound design, Leon Dobkowski making very complicated costumes, and Mark Adam Rampmeyer arranging wigs. Special music credits include music by Joe Tippett, lyrics by Matthew Lopez, and incidental music by Mary Ann Ivan.

But the big deal, after the audience shock has died down, is the splendid acting that this strange ensemble of actors supposedly escaping from poverty has produced. Watching J Tucker Smith come alive as his club continues to draw a crowd. Watching Nik Alexander recover from being a total drunk! Staying breathless with Jamison Stern, whose Miss Tracy Mills is beyond the beyond and keeps right on trucking. Watching Samaria Nixon-Fleming coalesce with all these players and her husband in the strangest of circumstances. And finally, absorbing the magnificent transformation of Austin Thomas from a young aspiring Elvis impersonator into the full-blown substance of Georgia McBride. This is not a close your eyes and listen to the music show. It’s confrontational all the way, and you may never see or feel anything like it again. Unless you’re sure that the fuddy-duddy in you would resist it completely, hurry to see it while you still can.

www.theaterworkshartford.org or 860-527-7838 for tickets and information.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre posted 4/6/2018

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