By Daniel Skora
Elvis has left the building, and this time maybe for good. The crowds at Cleo’s have been staying away in droves and Eddie, the bar’s owner, is left with no choice but to fire the Elvis impersonator who has been providing the entertainment. He has sent for his cousin who has an act of his own. And with that simple change of headliners at a rundown club in Panama City Florida begins “The Legend of Georgia McBride”, the hilarious comedy currently being presented by Theatre Nova.
Casey (Nick Yocum) is in no position to lose his job, has, in fact, added to his bleak financial future by investing in a white bejeweled jumpsuit straight out of Elvis’s Vegas years. His rent is long overdue and the landlord is threatening eviction. To make matters worse, his wife Jo (Meredith Deighton) has just let it be known that she’s expecting. Though Eddie (Joe Bailey) is allowing him to stay on as bartender, that isn’t where the tips are.
Enter Miss Tracy Mills (Vince Kelley) and his sidekick Rexy (Richard Payton). Both are drag queens and even Eddie is a bit skeptical that they can turn things around. Sure enough, problems arise. As the two drag queens are about to take the stage for their first appearence, Rexy, who’s always had a thing for the bottle, gets stinking drunk and can’t go on. But there is someone around with stage experience who just might be able to step in and take Rexy’s place.
Dressing in drag is the farthest thing from Casey’s mind. Tracy, however, is a good convincer and then there is that money to be made in tips. Maybe with a little bit of eye shadow, a smudge of the right shade of lipstick, and the right attitude, it just might work. And with an enthused crowd waiting the dressing room for the new act to appear, Eddie thinks it’s worth a try. With Tracy’s help, a little black dress, and lots of fear and anxiety, Casey takes the stage and lip-syncs to an Edith Piaf song. Will money and the urge to perform be enough to bring him back after a pitiful first performance, or will his passion for Elvis and the masculinity inferred by The King’s persona cause him to go packing?
“Georgia McBride” is one incredibly funny piece of theatre. It also has all the ingredients that go into making a spectacular show. It begins with the well-plotted and excellently realized script of Matthew Lopez. The script is witty, irreverent, and risqué, and plays extremely well at 100 un-intermissioned minutes. It contains a cast of colorful characters that are always entertaining. There are moments of high-hilarity, which include a sort of mini-cabaret show featuring drag performances by Cher, Judy Garland, and Dolly Parton.
Director Brandy Jo Plambeck has assembled a cast each of whom seems perfect for their part. Casey, of course, is the play’s linchpin, and Nick Yocum does a fine job delineating a character who finds himself pulled in many directions as husband, breadwinner, entertainer, employee, and finally, drag queen. As the sympathetic but lackluster Jo, Meredith Deighton provides the well-needed shot of reality that comes from a character whose life is lived outside the entertainment business. Joe Bailey has the look and the sound of the owner of a small-time bar who relishes everything that goes along with the business he’s in but has no particular talents of his own. Richard Payton as Rexy has the unenviable task of playing second-fiddle drag queen to Tracy. Rexy lacks the stunningly beautiful feminine features of Tracy, but the playwright does give her the small but important speech where life as a drag queen is defined not as a perversion but as an art form worthy of as much hard work and dedication as any other. Payton also does double duty, appearing as Jason, Nick’s friend and landlord.
But it’s Vince Kelley’s performance as Miss Tracy Mills that provides a lion’s share of the show’s spirit, flash, and uniqueness. Kelley has undoubtedly had experience showcasing feminine characters. He’s appeared as Hedwig in the “Hedwig and the Ingry Inch” musical. He’s got the look, the mannerisms, and the wardrobe (which he wears extremely well) that not only make for a truly breathtaking drag queen, but may set many of the males in the audience wondering about just where this woman was when they were looking for a spectacular date to take to their college prom. And it’s not unreasonable to imagine that many in the audience will spend a considerable amount of time while watching the show in an attempt to see beyond the rouge and the eye makeup trying to ascertain just exactly where Tracy ends and Vince begins or vice versa.
Make it a point to go and see “The Legend of Georgia McBride”. It’s fun, it’s fascinating, it’s provocative, and it’s one of the best shows currently playing around town. If you currently believe that being a drag queen is nothing more than engaging in a tawdry form of sleazy entertainment, you may change your mind after seeing this show. And you’ll have buckets of fun doing so.
“The Legend of Georgia McBride” was previously presented at The Ringwald Theatre with the same cast before moving over to Theatre Nova. In additional to his fine directing, Brandy Joe Plambeck also did the sound. Set design (the sparse living quarters of Casey and Jo’s home sharing the stage with the backroom/dressing area of Cleo’s) and set construction are by Stephen Carpenter. Lighting is by Daniel C. Walker. Tracy’s fabulously attractive costumes are by Vince Kelly with auxiliary costuming by Michael Ameloot.
“The Legend of Georgia McBride” runs through July 2nd. Tickets are available by calling the theatre’s box office at 734.635-8450. Contact A2TheatreNOVA@gmail.com or go online at www.TheatreNova.org for more information. Theatre Nova is located at 410 W. Huron Street in the Yellow Barn, a stone’s throw off the road in downtown Ann Arbor.