In a word, “The Legend of Georgia McBride” is simply this: outrageous.
It’s an outrageous tale, one that stretches believability.
It’s an outrageous exploration of theatrical arts, a genre-stretching show that borders on pure camp. To paraphrase the old joke about hockey, “The Legend of Georgia McBride” is a drag show where a drama breaks out.
It’s sometimes outrageously funny. Like, doubled over in your seats funny.
And the costumes, too. Perhaps there’s a word that takes us beyond outrageous. TheatreSquared employs a wig designer for the show, which features dozens of hairdos. I repeat: They have a wig designer for this show.
What: TheatreSquared’s “The Legend of Georgia McBride”
When: Some Tuesdays and every Wednesday – Sunday through June 2
Where: Nadine Baum Studios, Fayetteville
Cost: $17-$48; a limited number of $10 are available for those under 30 years old
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or theatre2.org
But perhaps the most important of the elements at work in Matthew Lopez’s 2015 comedy is this: It’s outrageous for a show this silly and sassy to have this much heart.
“The Legend of Georgia McBride” is TheatreSquared’s final production at its longtime home at Nadine Baum Studio before the organization moves across the street to a new purpose-built home. It’s among the most ambitious shows the company has tried in its 10 plus years.
The central story is simple enough: A broke performer with a baby on the way needs to make some money so out of sheer necessity he takes a gig he never considered. Our twist here is that Casey, a not-so-successful Elvis impersonator, must perform the role in drag.
How Casey makes this leap isn’t something the show dwells on much. It all happens so fast. The bar where he performs his Elvis gig needs something different, so the owner allows his cousin to bring in a drag show as a last resort. Casey stays around as a bartender until a drag performer named Rexy passes out and is unable to go on stage for her part. As they say in the business, the show must go on, so Casey does, but on very shaky footing (and not just because of the new high heels).
Casey (played here by Max Falls) is encouraged, mentored and occasionally badgered by his onstage counterpart, Miss Tracy Mills (played by James Beaman). Casey’s first performance is a re-doing of Rexy’s Edith Piaf number. Miss Tracy tells him if he’s to continue the show, he’s going to need to his own persona to match his new stage name. You too can have your own drag name if you take Miss Tracy’s method for naming Casey and use the state where your mother was born and add the last name of the first person you kissed. (You can call me Kansas Beard, by the way).
Casey – now Georgia McBride – starts raking in money that far outpaces the amounts he made as an Elvis impersonator. It couldn’t have come at a better time – his landlord was threatening eviction for Casey and his pregnant wife, Jo. Speaking of, Casey decides it’s easier to tell Jo he’s making money in a heavy metal cover band than as a drag performer. This is how we head toward our climax – the baby is ever closer to being born, the drag show is taking off and Rexy is out of rehab and ready for a return that might displace our new star.
The show is an absolute romp, a 100-minute parade of costumes and pizzazz and shade. Until it isn’t, and Casey learns what he’s doing isn’t just a fun game of escapism. There are stakes at home for he and Jo and their growing family, and for performers like Rexy, who endure despite homophobic treatment.
With its essential tale told, “The Legend of Georgia McBride” then gets back to its glitz and glam for a packed finale sequence. The show runs about 100 minutes without an intermission. It flies by.
Under the layers of makeup and sparkles and wigs, there’s a great deal of growth packed into those 100 minutes. That’s true even for the bar owner, Eddie, who takes a turn from reluctant host to bedazzled master of ceremonies. The entirety of the show is well acted. Falls brings an everyman mentality, something in the realm of John Krasinski, to the role of Casey. James Beaman, who has won awards for previous portrayals of Lauren Bacall and Marlene Dietrich, brings humanity to his role as Miss Tracy.
And let’s talk for a second about the unnamed sixth character of the production – the show’s costumes. Costume designer Bryce Huey Turgeon has created an outrageous – there’s that word again – collection of dresses and looks for the characters. His work in the field is well known, having recently designed for more than 20 queens who have appeared on the hit show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” He designed for the last three winners of the show, if you needed further proof of his credentials.
For Friday’s (May 3) opening night performance, TheatreSquared partnered with local LGBT organizations to draw a crowd. It meant that this wasn’t the first drag show for the majority of the audience. It was a theater show, but it felt like an actual drag show in many ways, including the yelling of “YAASSS QUEEN” at every major plot or costume reveal. I’ve never once heard the audience react so vocally during a show at T2. I’m hopeful that becomes everyone’s experience in the weeks that follow, and not just on those with specific outreach to the LGBT community. I hope it’s a drag show every evening, but I fear the magic of the first night might be hard to duplicate. I hope I’m wrong.
No matter the response on the nights to come, “Georgia McBride” is an outrageous sendoff to the old ways for TheatreSquared and an invitation to new exciting things to come.