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Fabulous. If a one-word review would do it, that would be the word.
But it won’t, so let me tell you about how much fun you’re going to have at The Legend of Georgia McBride, a lip-synched musical comedy/drag show by Matthew Lopez that just opened at the Arden Theatre Company.
Meet Florida man
The scene: a dive bar called Cleo’s in Panama City Beach, Florida.
Casey (Matteo Scammell) is an Elvis impersonator. He’s a cheerful, irresponsible guy married to Jo (Jessica M. Johnson). Jo is in a state of permanent worry because the rent is late and they’re about to be evicted. Add to this, she discovers she is pregnant. Add to that, the Elvis gig is pretty much a flop, and the bar’s owner, Eddie (Damien J. Wallace), who’s also broke, threatens to fire him.
Enter Miss Tracy Mills (Dito van Reigersberg), a performing drag queen on her last stiletto, accompanied by Anorexia Nervosa, a.k.a., Rexy (Mikeah Ernest Jennings). When Rexy passes out drunk on their opening night, unable to perform her act, what’s a girl to do? Days must be saved. Shows must go on. Tracy persuades Casey to put on a dress and makeup and the next thing you know the show is a hit, babies are born, the bar is rolling in dough, and we learn that life is full of love and surprises.
Throughout, the “girls” lip-synch many songs in many spectacular costumes (designed by Olivera Gajic). One tune, “Lost and Found” is an original song, actually sung, that sums up the joyous optimism basic to musical comedy.
All in the transformation
Dito Van Reigersberg is a very accomplished actor, in roles straight and gay, musical and not. And he has plenty of experience as a drag queen, since Martha Graham Cracker has been his alter ego for 10 performing years, so there is something delectably self-mocking in his Miss Tracy.
Matteo Scammell shows us the same range but from the opposite direction. An intense actor, seen in April in EgoPo Classic Theater’s The Hairy Ape, he discovers his inner drag queen without ever suggesting a shift in his very macho sexuality.
“Don’t be charming,” Tracy says.
“I can’t help it,” Casey responds.
Mikeah Ernest Jennings gets Rexy’s big protest line — “Drag is a raised fist in a sequined glove” — acknowledging that all is not always sequins in the land of drag. Jennings, too, demonstrates his range; he’s double cast as Jason, Casey’s straight, nice-guy landlord.
Damien J. Wallace also transforms. His Eddie starts out as a grumpy guy with a migraine and becomes an ultra-cool geezer who’s got all the moves. Jessica M. Johnson is convincingly sweet throughout. Jo goes from a fretful, judgmental wife to a lively helpmate — another transformed-by-showbiz story.
Though the entrance line “What a dump!” was first made famous by Bette Davis and then by Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, it might be replaced by Miss Tracy’s: “What is this hellscape I see before me?” The clever revolving set — laboriously and comically pushed by the actors — is designed by Jorge Cousineau.
Emmanuelle Delpech directs with all necessary élan.
What, When, Where
The Legend of Georgia McBride. By Matthew Lopez. Emmanuelle Delpech directed. Arden Theatre Company. Through December 4, 2016 at 40 N. 2nd Street, Philadelphia. (215) 922-1122 or ardentheatre.org.
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