Monday, July 23, 2018

The Legend of Georgia McBride is a Summer Smash

I find that when it comes to art, it finds you when you need it most. 


Photo by Dan Norman

Take last week, when I truly had the week from hell. Between wedding planning, multiple family medical emergencies, and a busy work schedule, all of our plans got totally upended. I had to miss out on several things I had been greatly looking forward to, and it absolutely stunk to say the least.

Photo by Dan Norman

So the fact that I made it to The Legend of Georgia McBride at all was not only astonishing, it was a downright blessing. I needed to experience a truly escapist, happy few hours, and boy did this deliver. The Legend of Georgia McBride tells the story of a straight man named Casey who accidentally becomes a drag queen in order to pay the bills for his wife and soon-to-be-born child. Casey's journey into drag begins as an act of desperation, but he quickly realizes that not only does he have a knack for it - he actually really enjoys it. He blossoms under the tutelage of a hilarious, wise queen named Tracy, who is part Norma Desmond, part RuPaul, part Liza Minelli, and all-around fabulous. Casey struggles to place his newfound passion inside his understanding of what it means to be a straight man, an inner conflict that bursts into the public once his wife discovers how he's really been making his money. The end of the show reconciles Casey with his identity in some surprising ways, and overall it's a beautiful testament to the dangers of gender constructs and the power we all can have when we embrace who we truly are regardless of what society tells us we need to be.

Photo by Dan Norman

This cast is small but tight, and I really enjoyed watching their interactions (although I do wish there were more local talent included!). Jayson Speters is eager and winning as Casey in his Guthrie debut. I really came around on his performance; he seemed a little too fresh at first, but he really blossoms (just as Casey does) throughout the show, and it doesn't hurt that Speters is a bonafide snack. Cameron Folmar is absolutely delightful as Tracy and had several scene-stealing moments, especially when performing Tracy's drag numbers. Folmar brings such nuance to his role, and we learn a lot through his grounded performance. Arturo Soria also provides several illuminating moments, both as the feisty drag queen Rexy and the straight but surprisingly open minded Jason, Casey's best friend. Soria truly embodies the saying that there are no small parts, and he really makes the show pop with his performance. Guthrie stalwart Jim Lichtscheidl is hilarious as the club owner Eddie, and the audience was delighted from the moment he stepped on stage. Chaz Hodges is eager and innocent as Casey's wife Jo. I liked her performance on her own, but the chemistry between Hodges and Speters was a little lacking. I don't think it was for lack of effort - maybe there just wasn't a true spark? - and it's still enjoyable, just not 100% believable. I loved Hodges' energy though, and I hope to see her around in future shows.

Photo by Dan Norman

I loved the kitschy scenic design from Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams. She really nails the eclectic world of drag backstage, and the easy transitions between scenes keep the action moving quickly. Patrick Holt's costume designs are an absolute riot; they are so creative and clever, and several had the audience rolling with laughter. Ryan Connealy's lighting design and Scott Edwards' sound design enhance the ambiance to be much richer than it otherwise appears, especially because there aren't really any true set changes. Overall, I appreciated Jeffrey Meanza's direction. There were so many clever details sprinkled throughout the play, from the costumes to the character development to the blocking, and it really is a whole lot of fun.

Photo by Dan Norman

I didn't know I needed The Legend of Georgia McBride in my life, but I can promise you that I really did (and I think you do too). Wrapped up in the eclectic, comedic package of this show is an astonishingly nuanced lesson about sexuality and the gender spectrum, the history of drag queens, the grace of open-mindedness and the ultimate demonstration of the Golden Rule. The Legend of Georgia McBride has everything I love in a show - laughter, love, lessons, and light of all kinds. I can't think of a better way to lift my spirits after a truly horrible week (it happens), and I hope others find as much peace in it as I did. Drag and trans experiences are really having a cultural moment right now, and it's a pleasure to see those stories told as well and fully as they are here (or in shows like Pose - another excellent piece of art worth visiting). The Legend of Georgia McBride runs at the Guthrie theater through August 26; for more information or to buy tickets, click on this link.

Photo by Dan Norman