The Legend of Georgia McBride

  • Our critic's rating:
    September 1, 2015
    Review by:
    Stanford Friedman

    Review by Stanford Friedman
    29 September 2015

    The Legend of Georgia McBride is a study in transformations. A dingy Florida panhandle nightclub, and its dingy owner, discover the joys of glitter, while a young man finds his inner woman. But the most notable transformation of the night belongs to playwright Matthew Lopez and his meandering script. This drawn out one-act starts off forced, then it puts on heels, tosses the plot aside, and becomes a lively musical, before finally turning a corner to become a surprisingly ambitious drama. Structurally, the show is a hot mess. But with several fine performances, some delicious musical lip syncing, and a poignant theme, it is a lovable mess as well.

    Casey (Dave Thomas Brown) is just your everyday Elvis impersonator trying to do right by his nightclub manager, Eddie (Wayne Duvall), and his hardworking wife, Jo (Afton Williamson). But then the rent check bounces, Jo gets pregnant and Eddie is set to replace him with Tracy and Rexy (Matt McGrath, Keith Nobbs) a pair of veteran drag queens. Casey sees no other choice than to man up and put on a dress. Thus Georgia McBride is born. At first, it feels as if Lopez is going for a Full Monty, a nice guy performing a risquée feat for the sake of his family. Then, as Casey keeps his addictive, burgeoning and profitable career a secret from Jo, it becomes more a tale of breaking bad (or breaking drag). Then the story line simply goes on hiatus. Rexy exits, and Casey and Tracy delve into a sequence of charming musical numbers that mark the passing months and their growing success.

    By the time we are brought back to reality, the stakes have changed. Rexy is back and no longer a comic foil, but rather, a smartly conceived spokeswoman for the history of crossdressing. And Casey is in crisis: in love with his wife while in love with being a woman; a successful drag star without ever having paid the price of his peers. “You have no idea what it means to me,” he tells Rexy. To which, Rexy knowingly responds, “You have no idea what it means.”

    Brown is not even a little believable as an Elvis impersonator, which luckily makes sense within the confines of the play. But as Georgia he is stunning, with a natural femininity and subtle, hilarious facial gestures. The plot twist of Georgia being a reinvented Elvis in a dress lasts all of about two minutes, in favor of a series of fun costumes and song stylings much more queenly than The King would ever dare. A very quick learner, Georgia is every bit as entertaining as Tracy, whom McGrath plays to perfection, throwing off Bette Davis one liners and, in the evening’s best scene, schooling Casey on finding one’s self as he stands there tired, worn and out of drag makeup for the only time of the night. As Jo, Williamson is almost too good, finding complexities in a role that Lopez does not fully explore. She would need a whole play unto herself to deal with everything on her plate. Somehow, director Mike Donahue keeps Jo’s, and everyone else’s, plate spinning long enough to reach a happy sit-com ending that finds Casey surrounded by babies, best friends and the kind of make-believe heterosexual bliss that can only come from passionately kissing one’s wife while looking prettier than she does.

    (Stanford Friedman)

    "A stitch-in-your-side funny, if improbable, new comedy... The performances, under the snappy direction of Mike Donahue, are, as might be said backstage (or onstage) at a drag show, totally flawless."
    Charles Isherwood for New York Times

    "A predictable but irresistible crowd-pleaser... Lopez’s latest play may not make him a legend, but it confirms his status as a writer worth hearing from."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "'The Legend of Georgia McBride' is a throwback to the feel-good drag-queen comedies of yore. You can spot every single plot development a mile ahead, but the production is so irrepressible, it’s almost impossible not to have a good time."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "A Queer Eye for the Straight Guy version of Tootsie, Matthew Lopez’s feel-good comedy delivers many of the diversions that its premise suggests... Presented in 100 straight minutes, the play seems like a truncated version of something fuller and more specific. The foundation is there; the shading needs work."
    Adam Feldman for Time Out New York

    "'The Legend Of Georgia McBride' may not be the best play to come down the pike, but few can top it for sheer bust-a-gut, lose-yourself, feel-good fun at the theatre. And it features a very talented cast, along with one central performance that's about as fabulous as it gets."
    Roma Torre for NY1

    "This lightweight comedy is filled with enough amusingly bitchy one-liners and energetic drag numbers to make it diverting fun."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Time Out - NY1 - Hollywood Reporter