If you’re an office worker for a company that’s fallen on hard times, you can parlay your skills into another gig somewhere. If you’re a writer out of a job, you can reinvent yourself in communications.
But what do you do if you’re an Elvis impersonator and folks are no longer all shook up by your act?
That’s the situation faced by Casey in “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” the gleefully over-the-top show that opened Friday at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Reluctant at first, Casey (Jayson Speters) gradually gains confidence when he’s reborn as a glamorous drag queen.
With well-timed acting, gaudy costumes and showers of confetti, “Georgia McBride” is the summer’s campiest, most rollicking hoot. Making his Guthrie main-stage debut as director, Jeffrey Meanza — the theater’s associate artistic director — takes a brisk approach to this breezy work, which also has bits of pathos. By the end, as club music throbs, it hardly feels like a two-hour sit without intermission.
Playwright Matthew Lopez is best known in the Twin Cities for “The Whipping Man,” which was produced at Penumbra Theatre in 2009 and at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre in 2017. Here he has written an unabashed celebration of drag culture, although it’s smuggled into what some might call a heteronormative narrative.
Casey finds himself with dwindling audiences in the Florida Panhandle dive where he entertains. He and his wife, Jo (Chaz Hodges), are having a hard time making rent. Then Jo gets pregnant. Club owner Eddie (Jim Lichtscheidl) decides to end the Elvis show and give his drag grande dame, Tracy Mills (Cameron Folmar), a chance to attract customers. Tracy takes Casey under her wing, and soon he’s winning over audiences again.
There are no real surprises in Lopez’s script and the role of Jo, the show’s lone woman, is woefully underwritten. But “Georgia McBride” is really not interested in her. It’s about Casey learning things about himself, including his love for entertainment.
The show, which was a hot number in New York in 2015, has a lot of places for a creative team to express themselves. From Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams’ smoothly transitioned scenography to the costumes by “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alum Patrick Holt (aka Tempest DuJour), Meanza’s collaborators crank up the fun quotient.
And of course there are fetching performances, led by the flawless Folmar, whose drag mom Tracy is an open and understanding taskmaster. Speters plays Casey as somewhat dense but a character who, as he learns how to work those dresses, wins us over as he grows. Master actor Lichtscheidl gives us a droll and deadpan Eddie, who thinks he’s seen it all but still can learn a few new things. Hodges plays Jo as the straight woman, saving her fireworks for some zingers aimed at getting her perpetual optimist of a husband to shape up.
But it is Arturo Soria who almost steals the show in two distinctly different roles: Casey’s childhood friend (and landlord) Jason and tipsy drag queen Rexy, who is always aggrieved and ready to fly off the handle. Soria’s skilled turn extends metaphors in a show about flexibility, versatility and discovering one’s hidden talents.
firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-673-4390 • Twitter: @rohanpreston