By Joanna Brady
If you’re looking for a really good laugh, get your tickets now for The Legend of Georgia McBride. It’s not only hilarious, it’s exhilarating, energetic, at times poignant, and thoroughly entertaining. A bang-up finale and good-bye kiss from the phenomenal Danny Weathers, leaving Key West after the end of this season. This marvelous production underlines why we will miss our longtime impresario and artistic director.
As the jewel in the crown of a highly successful season, The Legend of Georgia McBride showcases the inestimable talents of Key West drag queen extraordinaire, Christopher Peterson as Miss Tracy Mills. Peterson is brilliantly supported by headliner Nate Janis who plays Casey, a straight country boy working as an Elvis impersonator on the Redneck Riviera.
The brilliant cast also stars versatile Phillip Cole White, who does double duty as drag queen with a drinking problem, and Casey’s gentle landlord/friend. Simoné Elizabeth Bart charms as Casey’s wife Jo, and is also the show’s talented choreographer. John Reynolds is excellent as Eddie, owner of Cleo’s, a down-at-the-heels bar in Panama City.
Casey and Jo are about to be tossed out of their apartment by Jason for bouncing rent checks. To make matters worse, Jo is waving a pregnancy test stick reading positive, and Casey is fired because his stale Elvis act isn’t drawing customers into Cleo’s. As compensation, Eddie makes Casey his bartender.
Enter drag queens Miss Tracy Mills and Rexy—short for Anorexia Nervosa—(“It’s Italian,” she says) who promise to attract crowds with their drag show. Problem is, Rexy is a drunk who can’t be relied on. When he/she passes out one night, bartender Casey—a rangy, macho straight guy—is unwillingly recruited to replace her in drag.
Hurriedly given the stage name Georgia McBride, Casey struggles into the clothes, underwear, wig, make-up, and shoes, and awkwardly impersonates Edith Piaf, lip synching the unfamiliar French lyrics. But then he gets into it and begins to move more like a woman. Thus are we introduced to the art form of drag, which fascinates as it entertains in a world of bitchy wit, fun, and glitz.
For Casey, the tips more than cover his rent checks, but he can’t bring himself to tell Jo what he’s really doing for the money.
The inevitable happens. Georgia McBride is a huge hit and Casey finds himself not just growing into the role, but reveling in it, and making money hand over fist. The drag queens are onto him, but he hates to admit to himself that he loves what he’s doing. When Jo finds out the truth, she goes from shock to anger and throws him out.
It’s a great production. It’s also a lesson in self-acceptance. Rexy, a past victim of homophobic bullying, sums it up for Casey: “Drag is a protest; drag is a raised fist.”
Not to intellectualize it too much, but the play does offer insights into why drag entertainers do what they do. And why we love to watch them perform.
The last scene is a fantastic ‘dragaganza’, featuring dazzling costumes and exotic feathered headdresses and sparkling shoes and glittering backdrops, with exploding confetti shooting upward. The entire cast joins in, even Jo who has forgiven Casey and dances in the sizzling pageantry of their flamboyant burlesque finale.
The actors all do a fabulous job, but with a production like this, enormous credit must go to Michael Boyer’s set, the costume designs by Sushi, Carmen Rodriguez, Christopher Peterson; to Annie Miners indefatigable work as assistant director and dresser; and to John Jaworski’s fabulous lighting and Ben Pegg’s superb sound design.
Last but not least, one can’t say enough about the talent of playwright Matthew Lopez, whose snappy dialogue guides the vivid pace set by Weathers right up to its happy conclusion, even when he interjects a serious verbal snapshot. The play has been a hit everywhere from San Diego, where it was born in 2015, to New York where it was deemed ‘stitch-in-the side funny’. It is. Don’t miss it!
The show runs through May 26. Visit WaterfrontPlayhouse.org or call 305 294-5015. Curtain times all at 8:00 pm, no intermission. Adult entertainment.
(Joanna Brady is a local writer, author of the historical novel of Key West, The Woman at the Light, published by St. Martin’s Press)