Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Legend of Georgia McBride
Arizona Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent review of The Canterbury Tarot

James Pickering, Kevin Kantor, Armand Fields,
and Courter Simmons

Photo by Tim Fuller
On March 13, 2020, Arizona Theatre Company's production of The Legend of Georgia McBride opened in Tucson and closed that same night due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, ATC has has brought the show back with all but one of its 2020 cast intact to close out their 2022/2023 season. However, the world has changed a lot since the comedy had its one-night Tucson run in March of 2020, especially (due to a steady stream of anti-drag and anti-trans legislature) for the world of drag queens, the focus of Matthew López's hilarious, engaging, and quite moving comedy. The fact that this play is even more relevant now then back in 2020 is just one of the many reasons to see it, in addition to the fantastic cast, energetic staging, and colorful creative elements that make this feel-good yet sensitive comedy sparkle with sass and heartfelt emotion.

Written before López's drama The Inheritance won the Tony and Olivier Awards for Best Play, The Legend of Georgia McBride is a much simpler, small-cast play that focuses on Casey, the straight, sweet, and talented Elvis Presley impersonator who isn't attracting many customers at Cleo's, a dive bar on the Florida panhandler where Casey lives with his wife Jo. Cleo's owner Eddie decides to replace Casey's act with a duo of drag performers, Miss Tracy Mills and Rexy, to make the club profitable. Since Jo is pregnant and they are behind in the rent, this forces the broke Casey to tend bar in order to bring in some money. When Rexy is knocked out and Eddie needs another drag queen for the show, Casey has to decide to either quit or strap on some heels and a wig so the show can go on.

López's comedy is set in the area of Florida where he was born and raised, and he even used his personal connection to finding solace and safety in a drag bar in Panama City, Florida, as the basis and setting for the comedy. The Legend of Georgia McBride is a quick-paced, charming, and witty backstage look at drag and how it comes in all shapes, sizes, and sexual preferences, with identifiable characters and just enough preaching about the struggles, hatred, and insecurities that gay people and drag queens have had to deal with to give it bite. However, since this is a comedy, those moments are a bit at odds with the campy hilarity that is the bulk of the play, but they are never pandering and come straight from the heart of the characters. While it may not have the depth or scope of The Inheritance, which is a six-hour, two-part contemporary drama that focuses on gay culture and politics, by providing a personal look into the harsh truth that is sometimes under the glitzy and glamourous exterior of drag, López manages to give Georgia McBride and its characters power, which makes them even more endearing.

Director Meredith McDonough has just the right touch to ensure the comic moments are sharp and the serious moments and messages in the play resonate. The cast are all excellent. Kevin Kantor is wonderful as Casey, the sweet and caring husband who never worries and believes that everything will be okay. When Casey dons drag simply to make some money and save his job, he doesn't realize that the woman he becomes, Georgia McBride, will also make him be a better man, and watching Kantor transform into Georgia and gain grace and confidence along the way is extremely well acted and directed. Yet, from Kantor's well-delivered lines and facial expressions, we also see the shame Casey has in doing drag, since he's a straight man dressing up as a woman, and how that forms his inability to tell Jo exactly how he's making money. Kantor is delivering a nuanced, beautiful, and well-acted portrayal of what at first appears to be a very simple man.

Courter Simmons is equally as good in a knock-out performance as Miss Tracy Mills that is equal parts tenderness, sass, and pure emotion. Simmons has done drag professionally (his drag alter ego is Cacophony Daniels) and he is simply incredible in a performance that not only shows how hilarious and heartfelt drag can be but also how polished and professional it can be as well. Simmons' spot on vocal inflections, mannerisms, and stage presence perfectly channel numerous stars of Hollywood and Broadway; his Judy Garland medley is flawless. The part of the play in which Simmons' Tracy helps to transform Kantor's Casey into Georgia is so well written, acted, and directed that it will most likely have you laughing and smiling at the sheer insanity and emotional release it brings in how these two actors are able to create something magical in just a few minutes.

Renea S. Brown is warm and realistic as the practical and concerned Jo. She and Kantor have a natural chemistry that makes the relationship between their characters seem real and the situations they face believable. With perfect vocal delivery that gets big laughs, James Pickering is fun as Eddie, and Armand Fields does a great job playing both the bitchy and fierce drag queen Rexy and Jason, Casey and Jo's straight landlord. It's a nice touch that López gives the play's most powerful speech about the ongoing fight that gay people and drag queens have had to continually face not to Tracy but to Rexy, as it gives the audience a better understanding of that troubled character, and Fields delivers the moving monologue with a perfect effectiveness.

The creative elements are all excellent, with one exception. Patrick Holt's costumes are superb and very impressive, with the ones for Georgia getting more elaborate as Casey's drag skills improve. Paul Toben's original lighting design, adapted by Victoria Bain and David Schocket, sparkles and shines with a wide range of bright colors, and the impressive original music and sound design by Lindsay Jones, along with the movement direction by David Roman, heightens the effectiveness of the drag routines. While the scenic design by Collette Pollard is good, the choice to have the front door and kitchen set of Casey and Jo's apartment always present at the back center of the stage seems odd. It's never really used when the backstage set at Cleo's is on stage, so having it always there pulls the audience's attention away from where it should be. Fortunately, that's the only negative in a very impressive production.

The Legend of Georgia McBride is a highly entertaining and sweet backstage look into the individuals who are part of the world of drag. With a wonderful cast, Arizona Theatre Company's production is a whole lot of fun. But it's also a well written piece that will make you take note of how drag is more than glitz as it also represents the need for inclusion and, as Rexy says, it's also a protest, "a raised fist inside a sequined glove" to allow individuals to be happy and confidently and assuredly live their lives as their true selves. How there can be laws being put in place to stop people from being happy makes me think it's time for all of us, whether you're gay, straight, or nonbinary, to put on our sequined gloves and protest.

The Legend of Georgia McBride runs through July 16, 2023, at Arizona Theatre Company at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-256-6995.

Written by Matthew López
Director: Meredith McDonough
Scenic Designer: Collette Pollard
Costume Designer: Patrick Holt
Original Lighting Designer: Paul Toben
Adapted Lighting Design by: Victoria Bain and David Schocket
Original Music and Sound Design: Lindsay Jones
Movement Director: David Roman
Stage Manager: Mollie Heil

Cast: (In order of appearance)
Eddie: James Pickering* Casey: Kevin Kantor* Jo: Renea S. Brown* Rexy/Jason: Armand Fields* Miss Tracy Mills: Courter Simmons* Ensemble: Marshall Glass and Max Murray

*Member, Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States