‘Legend of Georgia McBride’ — a cheerful comedy told in drag

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IN DRAG—Matt McGrath, left, and Andrew Burnap perform in “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” now at the Geffen Playhouse. Photo by Jeff Lorch Photography

In “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” the sweet, endearing Casey (Andrew Burnap), an Elvis impersonator by trade, doesn’t discover true acting success until he takes on the persona of a woman. As the story begins he is a happy-go-lucky guy who barely earns enough money to pay the rent as an Elvis impersonator in a seedy dive in Panama City, Florida called Cleo’s.

In “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” the sweet, endearing Casey (Andrew Burnap), an Elvis impersonator by trade, doesn’t discover true acting success until he takes on the persona of a woman. As the story begins he is a happy-go-lucky guy who barely earns enough money to pay the rent as an Elvis impersonator in a seedy dive in Panama City, Florida called Cleo’s. His irresponsible, yet totally lovable ways are a source of deep concern to his wife Jo (Nija Okoro) when the rent check bounces because Casey had to buy a Papa John’s Pizza and their fragile bank account couldn’t handle both charges.

He manages to get her to smile by snuggling and rubbing her feet, but things go really bad when she tells him they are going to have a baby. He is overjoyed, but before he can tell Eddie, his boss (Nick Searcy), he’s fired. The reason?  Eddie’s cousin, a flamboyant drag queen named Miss Tracy Mills (Matt McGrath) has come to Florida and Eddie has promised him (her) his own show.

As part of her act Miss Tracy Mills works with another drag queen, Miss Rexy (Larry Powell, who also plays Casey’s landlord, Jason). When Miss Tracy learns that Casey will have no job she gets her cousin Eddie to keep him on as a bartender. Soon the club finds an audience and begins to prosper but at this point Miss Rexy, after drinking too much vodka, collapses and now there is a need for another drag queen to take his (her) place. Skillfully Miss Tracy gets a very, very reluctant Casey to step in as, of all singers, Edith Piaf. Casey has never heard of Piaf and becomes ever more upset when he is told he must lip-sync in French. How Miss Tracy shows him the secret of mouthing a song in French is hilarious. She gives him a slightly naughty saying to constantly repeat and it works. We were sitting in the third row so I could read Casey’s lips mouthing the saying as Edith’s voice spilled out into the audience. The results were hilarious and it was at this point that this odd, but very clever little comedy really came to life.

Much of the fun comes from the varied, imaginative costumes the two men leap in and out of which were created by costume designer E.B. Brooks. And the choreography by Paul McGill is also a hoot. One of the funniest song combinations is performed by Matt Mc Grath as Miss Tracy. He mouths a long string of Broadway songs from “Les Miserables” to “Gypsy.” Each selection is short and sweet, about 16 bars, as the drag diva jumps, spins and does high kicks. The results are side-splitting. And as soon as she darts off to quick change, out comes the country sweetheart Miss Georgia McBride in another sexy, revealing outfit.

Soon, and much to his surprise, Casey has become a drag sensation at the club and he is able to bring in lots of cash from all the money he generates in tips from the audience. His paycheck has also vastly improved.

Another clever aspect of this show is is how Eddie announces the different shows at Cleo’s for the various holidays ranging from Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day to St Patrick’s Day. Soon Casey is making big bucks, but his wife still thinks it’s because of his bartending skills. What could or will happen if she finds out?

“The Legend of Georgia Mc Bride,” at the Geffen Playhouse Playhouse, 10886 LeConte Ave., L.A., ends May 14. Running time 1 hour, 40 minutes. For information call 310-208-5454 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org. Ticket prices: $32 to $90, subject to change.

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During the merry, merry month of May many fine musicals will grace L.A. stages. Till May 14th you can enjoy “The Legend of Georgia McBride” at the Geffen. Then, starting on May 2nd  the musical hit “The Bodyguard” comes to the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood featuring the fantastic Dolly Parton song “I Will Always Love You,” which will also always conjure up memories of the late, great Whitney Houston. And last, but by no means least, “Jersey Boys” returns to the Ahmanson Theatre from May 16 through June 24.

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