by Kevin Shaw | photos by Bill Simmers
I was naughty. I did something I’ve never done before. Over a year ago, when Playhouse on the Square announced their season which included a show called The Legend of Georgia McBride and referenced it in their curtain speeches and brochures as a show about gay people and drag queens, I felt stupid. I felt embarrassed and left out. What were they talking about? It was announced in a way that it seemed any self-respecting homo would recognize the title and know what the show was about, but I didn’t. Where had I been? I did my best to resist my urges to research the show online to find out what I could before seeing it at Circuit Playhouse this past weekend. Don’t ruin the surprise, Kevin! Go into it blindly and be surprised! Experience the show as it was meant to be experienced with a fresh set of eyes and ears. Yada yada yada. But,
I’m a weak man. I gave in and read the reviews. I was especially impressed with the New York Times reviewer who said the show was full of, “rich, catty humor;” mixed with “clever pop-culture gags;” and a “Sound of Music joke alone (that) is worth the price of admission!” Overall, he called the show “Stitch-in-your-side funny!” I was so excited! My expectations were high! So, how was it? As the saying goes, “Expectations are just pre-planned resentments.”
Try this leap of faith for a plot pitch: A country bar in the deep south is struggling to keep its doors open with an Elvis impersonator, so, on a whim, without any notice, it brings in a couple of drag queens to turn things around. One of the drag queens can’t perform, so, again, on a whim, without any notice, the Elvis impersonator throws on a wig and a dress, and after making a shaky start (Elvis impersonator, so, pun intended) goes on to be a huge success and keeps the bar open while learning a little something about himself. Absolutely nothing about this story is original. Plenty of men have put on dresses out of desperation on stage and film—Some Like It Hot (to avoid being killed by mobsters), Tootsie (to get a job), La Cage Aux Folles (to keep a
job), etc. The novelty wore off long ago. So, if the concept isn’t new, the execution better be. Watching a straight man try and walk in high heel shoes? Watching a straight man trying to put on panty hose? Watching a straight man touch his own fake boobs? Not original or interesting. Maybe a straight audience who spends most of their time watching Fox News and Hee Haw (is that still on?) might find the premise of a redneck wearing a dress amusing, but a sophisticated gay audience who is checking for straight seams will be less than impressed.
Under the direction of Tony Horne, Georgia McBride, just doesn’t have much to work with and an even shorter distance to travel. Intuitively, it seemed the performers knew they needed to push the energy to try and find the humor that just wasn’t to be found. Even the reference to The Sound of Music that the New York Times critic stated was worth the price of admission alone was such a throwaway a line that I missed the next five minutes of dialogue trying to figure out how that could have been so funny. It wasn’t funny. Most of the show wasn’t funny. The only highlights were some of the drag numbers, but the music volume was so low, it felt like we were in a library, not a drag bar. Everything about this show just felt off–the connections between the actors, the comedic timing, the pacing, the rhythm. The quieter, more “serious” scenes with a “message” grinded this already lumbering production to a halt. Girl, ain’t those expectations brutal?
Donald Sutton as Casey, the Elvis impersonator turned drag queen, almost works too hard to make his character positive and likable. Unfortunately, taking a happy, upbeat guy and putting him in a dress is not nearly as interesting as its opposite. Likewise, when the character exposes his true feelings and uses the word “faggot,” it just doesn’t ring true coming from such a nice guy. Samantha Lynn Miller as Casey’s wife Jo, who’s unexpectedly pregnant at the top of the show which compels her husband to don the drag, seems more uncomfortable as the actress than as the character. There simply is no chemistry between her and Sutton and their quieter moments as a couple miss the mark. Daniel Stuart Nelson, Jason Gerhard and Mark Pergolizzi make the most of what little they have to work with in their supporting roles. They all deserve an “E” for effort in trying to squeeze anything of value here. However, it’s Justin Allen Tate who offers a glimmer of something promising to be had here in his performance as Tracey, the visiting drag queen who mentors Casey on the keys to drag and to life. He gets all the best lines and milks all of his moments onstage in an effort to singlehandedly save this turkey. He succeeds…almost.
After having seen this show, I don’t feel so bad I had never heard of it. I think there is a reason. The cast and crew work hard to make Georgia shine, but they can only do so much with a weak script. As I mentioned, some of the drag numbers are fun (crank up the music, please!) and mindless entertainment is sometimes just what a person needs, but I would advise that you keep your expectations low. Very low. After all, you can put lipstick on a pig, but, at the end of the day, it’s still a pig.
Now through June 30, 2019