Encore Michigan

‘Georgia McBride’ continues its success at Theatre Nova

ANN ARBOR, Mich.–We meet charming country boy Casey on the night his stressed-out wife, Jo, delivers three pieces of news:

  1. His splurge on a Papa John’s pizza has caused their rent check to bounce.
  2. She’s pregnant.
  3. He’s gotta grow up.

Casey’s also been hearing “things have got to change” from Eddie, the owner of a dive bar named Cleo’s in Florida’s panhandle, where Casey is an Elvis impersonator. Despite Casey’s investment in a sequined-studded silk jump suit, the King isn’t bringing in customers.

When Eddie’s cousin – the self-proclaimed Grand Dame of Drag, Tracy Mills – turns up at the bar with her acid-tonged sidekick Anorexic Nervosa “Rexy”, Casey is demoted from performer to bartender.

When Rexy, hilariously, passes out drunk just before her Edith Piaf on roller skates act, Casey gets a break to return to the stage. But Eddie and Tracy balk when he reaches for his Elvis jumpsuit. Patrons are there to see a drag show, after all.

Tracy sweeps into action like a mother hen. She dresses him in hose and heels, little black dress and big black wig. She quickly coaches him on how to lip sync a French song, evoking side-splitting laughter from the audience. Tracy also creates his stage name on the spot from the state where Casey’s mother was born and the last name of his first girlfriend: Georgia McBride.

Casey is not exactly a hit after his first night in drag, but he’s not an embarrassment, either.

Under Tracy’s “tits up and testicles tucked” tutelage, Casey learns the sexpot tricks of the cross-dressing trade. He — as a she — blossoms as a performer and the tips start flooding in. Tracy and Casey even develop a mother-daughter act called “The Jugs.”

But how can a straight guy explain to his perpetually worried wife that the fistfuls of cash he’s hauling home every night were not earned behind the bar, but while wearing stiletto heals, garish wigs, falsies and lip syncing to Shania Twain’s “I Feel Like a Woman”?

Casey never finds the gumption have that difficult conversation. He’s feeling conflicted. How did he become a man who believes there is no problem eye shadow can’t remedy? Jo discovers his secret one night when she pays a visit to Casey at work – and gets the surprise of her life.

And the surprises keep snowballing until the final scene of the 1 hour and 45 minute show. Casey’s deception doesn’t ultimately destroy he and Jo’s tender relationship, or diminish their desire to be Mary and Joseph-caliber parents to their twins, Elvis and Priscilla.

Granted, this outcome is improbable. Playwright Matthew Lopez doesn’t delve too deeply into the psychic dissonance of a heterosexual family man who earns his living as a drag queen.

Nevertheless, this is a clever script and a highly entertaining show with great music, good humor and plenty of sass. It’s reminiscent of both “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “The Full Monty.”

This expertly acted show was such a hit at the Ringwald in Ferndale that Theatre NOVA brought it to Ann Arbor for a run that ends July 2. The June 17 performance was a near sellout. Seemingly everyone was on their feet by the end cheering and tossing fake bills on the stage. A few in the crowd said they saw the show one week before, and liked it so much they couldn’t wait to return.

Director Brandy Joe Plambeck’s set is genius. With a revolving element scenes instantly collapse from Casey and Jo’s modest apartment, to backroom of the bar. The pulling of a glittery curtain — coupled with Eddie’s direct greetings – morph the Theatre NOVA audiences into patrons of Cleo’s.

Vince Kelley stands out among a very talented cast in the role of sweet-mannered, motherly Tracy. One of the biggest laughs of the night comes when Tracy and Casey, as Georgia, are on the verge of their first argument after having agreed to unionize as the “Drag Queensters.” Tracy is ticked that Casey, without her input, has made a labor demand, essentially “putting words in my mouth.” Casey retorts that Tracy puts lots of things in her mouth. Instead of getting angry, she hugs him dearly and gushes, “You’ve thrown your first shade! I’m so proud of you.” Nick Yocum is deliciously charming as both Casey and Georgia. He makes a physically demanding role look easy. Richard Payton is wonderful as Rexy, especially in his speech about being liberated as a drag queen, like “a raised fist in a sequined glove.” Rexy’s comment upon seeing Cleo’s for the first time that she’d been “raped in nicer places” wasn’t easy to hear, however. Meredith Deighton portrays dowdy Jo with equal parts of anxiety and innocence. Joe Bailey ties the show together beautifully as the money-first Eddie.

Don’t miss this one.