Mathew López’s Musical Charts Discovery of Authentic Self
by K. Marguerite Caronna
Elizabeth Carter directs Center REP’s vibrant rom com, “The Legend of Georgia McBride” with warm-hearted élan. The juke box musical switches between whiplash zingers, high octane dances, and poignant, if predictable, self-discovery. All high-spirited cheek.
The functional set designed by Kelley James Tighe toggles between a couple’s humble apartment, the night club’s “hellscape” utility closet/dressing room, and the club’s stage dominating the center. Above all hangs an enlarged, vintage style postcard, labelled “Panama Beach, FLA”—announcing an unlikely place for a life-altering drag show.
Casey (versatile Joe Ayers) is a failing Elvis impersonator who just spent the rent check on a flashy new jumpsuit. His wife Jo (lovely Sundiata Ayninde) announces that both a baby and an eviction are on the way. Casey reacts less than seriously. Ayers gives us an inkling here of Casey’s slow discovery of more mature traits. But as he develops his own drag persona, he surprisingly becomes a new man.
As Elvis, Casey can only draw a meager audience to the club. So, the club owner Eddy (comedic gem Alan Coyne) plans to replace Casey with a drag show. Coyne and Ayers make great comic music together.
Enter J.A. Valentine—a Bay Area treasure, veteran drag performer, and drag mentor—as Miss Tracy Mills. Her sidekick, the thoroughly intoxicated Rexy is played hilariously by physical comedian Jed Parsario, with fabulous attendant wigs.
It’s a do drag or die moment for straight Casey, who transforms himself into Georgia McBride. He lies to his wife Jo and their beer-swilling landlord Jason (Parsario again). Casey even defends his mentors, the drag performers, while he is embarrassed to admit being one himself.
Casey steps into the heels of his new-found persona with the faltering uncertainly of a baby drag queen. Under the acerbic, yet patient, tutelage of Miss Tracy Mills, he gains confidence and finds his own “fierce” style. It’s not just that he’s making the rent, he likes doing drag!
Rexy, short for Anorexia Nervosa (she’s Italian), has an unanticipated moment of schooling Casey about gay history and gay bashing. The serious moment feels abrupt and doesn’t land. But the show must and does, go on.
The costuming by Becky Bodurtha is nothing short of fabulous, including increasingly flashy attire for bar owner/MC Eddy. As suspected, a sequined Elvis impersonator jumpsuit can be a drag performer’s gateway costume.
Casey feels that his acceptance of his inner Georgia brings out his better nature. But is it enough to win back Jo?
In a time when some libraries are cancelling children’s reading hours with drag artists, “Georgia McBride” reminds us of the merits of difference and acceptance. Humor and compassion transcend suspicion and fear.
With comedic fun and flashy dance numbers, this warmly entertaining story defies assumptions. “The Legend of Georgia McBride” reminds us that family is often where you find it.
“The Legend of Georgia McBride” by Matthew López, directed by Elizabeth Carter, scenic design by Kelley James Tighe, costume design by Becky Bodurtha, by Center REPertory Company, Walnut Creek, California. Info: lesherartscenter.org – to November 26, 2023.
Cast: Joe Ayers, Sundiata Ayinde, Alan Coyne, Jed Parsario, and J.A. Valentine.
Banner photo: Miss Tracy Mills (J.A. Valentine) helps Casey (Joe Ayers) transform into an all-out queen. Photos: Kevin Berne