‘Georgia McBride’ and the craft of drag at The Ringwald
FERNDALE, Mich. — It might not come as a surprise that The Ringwald is staging a show about drag queens.
But The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez is not strictly camp. Yes, there are many laughs. But there also are some very serious and poignant moments that, dare I say, might cause the audience to shed an involuntary tear or two?
Here’s the plot in a nutshell: Casey is young, broke, and his landlord’s threatening to evict him just as he has learned his wife is going to have a baby. To make matters even more desperate, Casey is fired from his gig as an Elvis impersonator at Cleo’s, a run-down bar in run-down Panama City, Fla. When Eddie, the bar owner, brings in a drag show to replace his act, Casey finds that he has a lot to learn about show business, walking in heels and most important, himself.
The one-hour, 40-minute show has no intermission but time doesn’t, shall we say, drag. The pace is spot-on and the time just sails by.
Brandy Joe Plambeck directs a cast that includes Joe Bailey, Meredith Deighton, Vince Kelley, Richard Payton and Nick Yocum.
There’s never any doubt that Casey/Georgia McBride (Yocum) is straight, but he nevertheless must bravely struggle through a transformation from terror born of economic desperation to confidence and proficiency as he learns and then embraces the craft that is drag. (And the money isn’t bad, either.)
Yocum’s convincing transition is guided with patience and wit by Miss Tracy Mills (Kelley), who’s forced to bring Casey into the drag-queen realm on the fly, teaching him during a crash course in lip-synching Edith Piaf’s “Padam Padam” that the key to lip-synching is repeating the words “watermelon motherf***er.” She also can be credited with helping him come up with his stage name Georgia McBride — inspired by the state in which his mother was born and the last name of the first girl he kissed.
Bailey, who plays Eddie, the owner of Cleo’s, is the glue that binds the club’s progression from fading to fabulous. He’s by turns funny and dour, at one point berating the audience at Cleo’s (in actuality the Ringwald playgoers) for not clapping along to the music. Although Casey’s wife Jo (Deighton) isn’t a lot of fun for much of the show — going from whining to pregnant to shocked and angered by learning her husband’s job at Cleo’s isn’t that of bartender — by the end, she finally seems comfortable in her own skin.
Payton truly gets to show his acting range and proficiency, alternating between the alcoholic Rexy, a demanding diva of a drag queen, to Jason, Casey’s good ol’ boy neighbor and landlord, who at times sounds like Jimmy Stewart filtered through Florida’s Panhandle. His speech as Rexy to Casey about what it means to live as a drag queen, not just perform as one, is heartfelt.
Props, as it were, to scenic designer Steven Carpenter for making the absolute most of the Ringwald’s small stage. He manages to combine Casey/Jo’s apartment, the backstage of Cleo’s, and the front of the curtain at Cleo’s into one split stage. Lighting design by Brandy Joe Plambeck allows all three to coexist in one space without requiring what would have been cumbersome and time-consuming set changes.
Vince Kelley (costume design) and Michael Ameloot (auxiliary costumes) do a smashing job with the plethora of costumes. Besides each of the characters, there are a dozen costumes for the drag queen performances, each one more perfect than the last.
You don’t have to be gay or a drag enthusiast to appreciate the sentiments at the heart of this play, where making a living crosses paths with making, or remaking, a life.