Review | The Legend of Georgia McBride: a joyous, charming celebration

At the Guthrie Theater, through August 26

Cameron Folmar, Arturo Soria, and Jayson Speters in THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE. Photo by Dan Norman.

Since taking the helm, Guthrie artistic director Joseph Haj has pushed the venerable theater into greater diversity, both in tone and in representation. With The Legend of Georgia McBride, the theater ventures into new territory on both fronts with a feel-good, summery trip into America’s drag show subculture. In being celebratory rather than didactic, the show captures the beauty and joy of its characters and succeeds in its convincing argument that expressing yourself, no matter how, is a worthy venture.

Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride follows Casey, a struggling Elvis impersonator in Panama City, Florida. When the cruddy bar he performs at pivots to feature a drag show and his wife announces she is pregnant, Casey tries on drag with the help of the new showrunner and experienced queen Tracy Mills. His act flourishes under Tracy’s guidance, and Casey must figure out who he is and what he wants in his life.

This is the Guthrie, and per usual, all of the performances are very good. Jayson Speters (Casey) particularly excels when channeling Edith Piaf or Olivia Newton-John. Jim Lichtscheidl gives the bar’s owner, Eddie, just the right balance of resignation and enthusiasm (as well as many of the play’s best comedic bits). Both Arturo Sorio and Chaz Hodges give their characters—a messy drag queen named Rexy and Casey’s practical wife Jo—room to breathe and grow into their respective arcs.

The cast’s real standout is Cameron Folmar, who truly pulls the nuance and humanity out of Tracy Mills, on top of relishing a few fantastic musical numbers to boot. Although Tracy as a character distributes perhaps too convenient wisdom within the plot, Folmar performs with a lot of depth and some lovely complexity.

The assured direction of Jeffrey Meanza brings each element together to create a festive, rousing production. In a play that could easily ricochet tonally from intimate family drama to outsized musical numbers instead feels consistent, even grounded.

And the elements work. The costume design by Patrick Holt (an actual contestant on Ru Paul’s Drag Race) is especially superb—and there is a mountain of costuming in this show. Matthew Steffens’s choreography is terrific—frequently exuberantly outlandish without feeling cartoonish. The set (Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams) is simple, lovely, and functional, and the lighting (Ryan Conneally) highlights all the right notes in each scene and song.

To be perfectly honest, neither of us has ever seen an episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race—we’re not much for reality television. We admittedly know very little about the world of drag, but Georgia McBride’s passionate portrayal of this community may have whetted our appetites for a few episodes of Ru Paul and some searching for a good local drag show. Although the plot is predictable, the production is an always charming, frequently surprising, and campy celebration—just what a Minnesota summer demands.

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