One of the more popular plays produced over the last few years in Connecticut regional theaters is Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride, and though I entered Ivoryton Playhouse Friday night with a degree of fatigue for the play, I admit I came out glad I didn’t miss their production, because it is an overall enjoyable and entertaining production.
Directed by Todd Underwood and running through April 30, The Legend of Georgia McBride is set in and around Panama City, in the panhandle of Florida and would surely be a play Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would protest and in the state of Tennessee would likely be banned if children were admitted to the production, if their law banning drag performers ever officially becomes law – there is currently a hold on the law by a federal judge in the state.
The play follows Casey, played by Clint Hromsco, a down on his luck Elvis impersonator who lip-syncs to the King’s greatest hits at Cleo’s, a bar that’s about a 40 mile drive away from home for Casey. Things go from bad to worse as he and his wife Jo, played by Rae Janeil, are about to be evicted from their apartment they’re renting, and Jo discovers that she is pregnant.
Things then go from worse to worst when the bar’s owner, Eddie, played by Mike Boland, fires Casey from his Elvis act, bringing on a drag act instead, featuring Miss Tracy Mills, played by Sam Given, and Anorexia Nervosa, Rexy for short, played by Timiki Salinas.
When Rexy’s alcoholism gets the best of her, Casey steps in, saving his job and discovers that a drag show is far more profitable than playing Elvis.
Hilarity ensues as the decidedly cis male Casey steps into a drag costume and learns the various degrees of artistry necessary to pull off his drag persona, the titular Georgia McBride. Though he grows more attached to the role, he can’t bring himself to admit his new career to Jo.
What’s delightful about The Legend of Georgia McBride, is the general degree of warmth the characters have, while maintaining its generally silly story.
The amount of genuine warmth Sam Given gives as Tracy to Casey is endearing and something that can easily be shorthanded, as it is understandable that Tracy can be impatient with everything that is going on.
The romance between Casey and Jo is another necessary factor to the success of Georgia McBride, as it is very much a central figure of Casey’s motivation, and I think this is the best representation of the couple out of the three productions I’ve seen. Hromsco and Janeil are both tender and anxious with each other and understandably so, especially Janeil’s Jo since Casey can’t seem to carry his weight financially at home.
Though Casey is the main character, the show’s success lives and dies with Miss Tracy Mills, and Sam Given gives the standout performance. His drag performances as Miss Tracy as she performs various lip sync performances are hilarious, especially the Liza Minnelli number which is every bit as frenetic as it should be.
Though the musical numbers for Miss Tracy are great, the ones for Casey tend to fall flat. Sure, some of it has to do with the fact that the character is learning the ropes, but some of it has to do with the musical numbers chosen for this production, which though the audience was receptive weren’t invested as the songs weren’t as well-known to the generally silver haired audience as Miss Tracy’s numbers.
Also there is a key moment near the end of the play where Casey performs a song that he wrote for Jo and is supposed to be playing guitar. I get that not every actor can play guitar, but they can at least make an effort to look like they’re playing the instrument. Hromsco’s strumming technique is horrible, which is a shame, because he’s otherwise great in the role.
The other issue I have with Georgia McBride is the confrontation between Casey and Rexi, which isn’t Underwood’s fault, it’s a writing issue. At one point, Rexi chastises Casey for being an imposter, with no respect to the heritage and history of drag culture. I get why the scene is there, but it’s always felt forced for me, like Lopez had to insert a moment where we get a serious talk about drag queens and who they are. The scene never feels adequately impactful for Casey, like he’s got more pressing issues on his mind than Rexi’s rebuke. Still, Ivoryton’s production of The Legend of Georgia McBride is delightful with a great cast and plenty of laughter.