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Denver Theater Review: ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’

Once it hits its stride, the new play by Matthew Lopez becomes a delightful, genderbending farce.

With:

Ben Huber, Jamie Ann Romero, Matt McGrath, Nick Mills.

Although a little slow in the early going, “The Legend of Georgia McBride” — the new play by Matthew Lopez, whose title “The Whipping Man” was one of the most-produced plays in the country last season — swiftly accelerates into a delightful, genderbending farce that looks poised to summon auds both straight and gay. Once Mike Donahue’s tightly segued and well cast production finds its natural, uptempo pace, over-the-top diva perfs turn “Georgia McBride” into a funny and often glorious tribute to the art of drag.

“Every man has some femininity, you just gotta know where to look,” says drag queen extraordinaire Miss Tracy (Matt McGrath) to Casey (Ben Huber), a straight, unemployed Elvis impersonator looking for a way to pay the rent and sock some money away for the baby-on-the-way with wife Jo (Jamie Ann Romero).  Miss Tracy asks Casey where his mama was born and the last name of the first girl he kissed, and, lo, a drag persona is born: Miss Georgia McBride.

Casey agrees to step in for Tracy’s soused partner, Miss Rexy (Nick Mills), for just one night, but signs on for the ride when the cash flow turns into a torrent. “It’s just a part, right?” Casey says. But it’s more than a part for him, as he hides the nature of his work from Jo and his brother, Beau (McGrath).

The contrast between backstage action and onstage performances sets the tone as the story jumps between the en-deshabille dressing room rubble of make-up, costumes and wigs, and the lip-sync segs that light up the theater in sequences marvelously staged by choreographer Will Taylor and a crack design team.

Cast turns in first-rate work centered around Huber, whose character’s arc — from clueless hetero clumsily lip-syncing Edith Piaf, to confident performer tackling hot, suggestive country icons and finally top-shelf divas like Streisand — is an epic one he traces with ease. Romero, too, dazzles in an array of contrasting personas ranging from organized and practical wife to pesky dive bar proprietor to the exotic reigning Miss Gay Florida.

McGrath smoothly showcases a gamut of cultural extremes — from the beautiful and wizened Miss Tracy, journeyman drag queen and school-of-hard-knocks philosopher, to Beau, the buttoned-up CPA and school board candidate. Mills scores with genderbending raunchiness, both as an emotionally sloppy landlord and as pickled Miss Rexy, whose mouth never met a four-letter word that it didn’t like.

After Jo discovers that the lipstick stains on Casey’s collar are his own and she gets a gander at his act, she tell him she’s bummed because “You’re prettier than me!” From there the comic plot resolution unfolds. But behind all the zingers, grit, and glamour, Lopez delivers a strong message on tolerance for the entire spectrum of human sexuality, while creating a barrelful of fun in the process.

Denver Theater Review: 'The Legend of Georgia McBride'

Ricketson Theatre at the Denver Center Theatre Company; 237 seats; $57 top. Opened, reviewed January 17, 2014. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Production:

A Denver Center Theatre Company world premiere of a play in two acts by Matthew Lopez.

Creative:

Directed by Mike Donahue. Set, Donyale Werle; costumes, Dane Laffrey; lighting, Don Darnutzer; original music and arrangements, Jill BC Du Boff; Stage Manager, A. Phoebe Sacks.

Cast:

Ben Huber, Jamie Ann Romero, Matt McGrath, Nick Mills.

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