Playwright Matthew Lopez’s superb work had his audience in rapture
Playing on the McGuire Proscenium Stage inside Guthrie Theater — a mammoth and iconic live arts complex overlooking the Mississippi River — The Legend of Georgia McBride is a deftly written LGBTQIA+ play with a lot of laughs to be had and lessons to be taught.
The show revolves around Casey, a down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator with a newly pregnant wife named Jo. When he loses his King of Rock gig, veteran drag queen Tracy comes in to save the day — by forcing Casey into drag for a hilariously unrehearsed Edith Piaf number. Through a series of live montages, the audience watches months go by as Casey develops his drag identity, Georgia McBride. Eventually Georgia becomes a local fixture that draws huge crowds. All the while, Casey keeps his this identity hidden from Jo.
The dual role of Casey and Georgia is played by Jayson Speters, a skilled comedic actor who plays big for big laughs. The role is very demanding, and Speters more than rises to the occasion with his all-in, enthusiastic turn. Speters also has several quick changes on stage in which he strips down to only his briefs; these chiseled, shirtless moments brought an eye candy element to McBride, much like the Pit Crew on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Another great performance comes from actress Chaz Hodges as Jo. Hodges grounds Speter’s intentionally over-the-top performance with her low-key, affecting dramatic delivery. The result is brilliant chemistry between their characters Casey and Jo. The audience gets the sense the couple truly completes each other.
Casey is a straight man, and the show uses that to tackle cultural appropriation. Through a powerful monologue from rival drag queen Rexy, played by actor Arturo Soria, playwright Matthew Lopez does a beautiful job explaining the rich history of drag in the LGBT community. Soria also plays a second role as Jason, the looming landlord of Casey and Jo.
Actor Cameron Folmar plays Tracy, drag mother to the titular queen. Folmar’s Tracy is the show’s greatest performance. Tracy is not only a wisecracking drag queen (dressed in a gown featuring President of the United States Donald Trump’s gaping mouth, no less), but a stern dose of a realism for the younger and somewhat naive Casey.
Guthrie veteran Jim Lichtscheidl plays Eddie, owner of the seaside venue the characters perform at. Eddie announces the drag performances, gradually becoming more and more charismatic before fully getting into drag for the finale. Lichtscheidl has over 30 Guthrie shows to his credit.
Visual storytelling comes thanks to costume designer Patrick Holt (also known as Tempest DuJour from Season 7 of Drag Race). Holt’s work is like another character in the show, and pops out against the intentionally minimalistic sets. The outfits often feature outrageous reveals that would make Sasha Velour proud. Two standout pieces include summer outfits deep seated in American iconography.
McBride is a mix of comedy and drama, balanced perfectly. Jokes landed and tearjerking moments had us wishing we brought Kleenex. The two-hour show flowed well, and its lack of an intermission felt like a wise decision. Part of that sleek flow was due to McBride’s interesting, dynamic staging; director Jeffrey Meanza transitioned setups in a visually pleasing manner.
The show culminated in a grand finale that was everything anyone would want from a play about drag queens — complete with the country version of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” It had the audience on their feet. Everyone left the Guthrie with a grin.
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