If you’ve never heard of “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” you’re not alone. Prior to seeing the play at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, I had never heard of it either.
I guess that means that as fun and entertaining as this fish-out-of-water tale is, it is going to need an introduction.
Drag queens and cross-dressing are subjects that when handled appropriately and with respect can be very funny. If you need any proof, just think of films like “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar” and “The Birdcage” or Broadway musicals like “La Cage aux Folles” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” In fact, the current toast of Broadway is a new musical adaptation of the 1959 comedy film “Some Like It Hot” that saw family favorites Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dressing like women to escape the mob.
“The Legend of Georgia McBride” is a very funny addition to this long line of comedy gems. I assure you that the subject matter is not offensive or risqué. In fact, the witty dialogue, silly situations and big bold performance numbers make for a very fun and friendly night of theater.
Further, “The Legend of Georgia McBride” comes with a premier pedigree – the playwright, Tony winner Matthew Lopez, was one of the co-writers of the book for “Some Like It Hot,” which seems destined to be another award winner.
Also boasting an impressive pedigree is “Georgia McBride” director Robbie Simpson, who most notably directed the 2021 national tour of “A Charlie Brown Christmas Live on Stage.” He also served as associate director of the Broadway national tour of “Chicago” and the national tour of “A Christmas Story, The Musical.”
Simpson is the interim artistic director for Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. Proving his ability to make an impact, Simpson was asked to step into director’s duties for the show with a week to go in the rehearsal process. While some might quake before such a challenge, Simpson has risen to the task, shepherding in a production it would be foolish to miss.
The premise of “The Legend of Georgia McBride” is that a young Elvis impersonator discovers he has more enthusiasm than talent at evoking images of The King. Finding himself out of a job and with his wife expecting a baby, former high school jock Casey takes the only work opportunity available – working as a drag queen.
While men dressed as women is the canvas upon which this plot is painted, the story is really about relationships, understanding, acceptance and finding one’s true purpose.
Casey is played by Ty Schirmer in what appears to be one of his first professional credits. Schirmer is a highly capable and charming actor whom audiences will enjoy.
As is typical with drag shows, most of the music is lip-synced. However, Schirmer does sing and play guitar at certain points in the show, and is impressive. While he does a great job lip-syncing, some in the audience could be overheard wishing there were more use of Schirmer’s real singing – particularly as Elvis.
After getting thrust into being a drag performer on the fly, once Casey learns the intricacies of the art form, he finds that he’s good at it – and he enjoys it. One of the keys to this journey of self-discovery is the development of his drag queen persona: Georgia McBride.
Guiding Casey on his journey to becoming Georgia is Miss Tracy Mills. Miss Tracy is played brilliantly by Raymond K. Cleveland. In addition to being an accomplished and talented actor, Cleveland is also an accomplished drag performer under the name Coco Sho-Nell.
Miss Tracy Mills has some gloriously thrilling costumes, and Cleveland/Coco has the audience cheering for outstanding tributes to artists such as music divas Janet Jackson and Diana Ross.
Another notable standout in the small ensemble is Tuesdai B. Perry as Casey’s wife, Jo. Perry establishes real chemistry with her onstage husband, showing why Jo loves this goofball despite his numerous and repeated screwups.
Rounding out the cast are Jeffrey David Thomas, who creates two contrasting characters in dual roles as a rival drag queen (Rexy), as well as the Caseys’ landlord, Jason. Valerie Gorman is convincing and well-rounded as the proprietor of the bar where Casey performs.
The director has done a good job creating a highly enjoyable piece of theater. It’s bouncy and silly, but also has its powerful, tender moments. It’s a feel-good show. You’ll have a great time watching some very talented performers, and you’ll leave with a smile on your face.
Also to be credited are drag consultants Honey West and Shaun White. They give the show a definite level of credibility.
I encourage you to always be open to trying things that are outside your comfort zone. Just because you might not have heard of “The Legend of Georgia McBride” before doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hurry to order tickets. “Hamilton” was once an unknown show, too.
• Rikki Lee Travolta is an award-winning creative talent who has appeared throughout the country as a theatrical headliner, as well as in film and television. Visit www.RikkiLeeTravolta.com.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “The Legend of Georgia McBride”
WHERE: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights
WHEN: Thursday through Sunday until March 4
INFORMATION: 847-577-2121, www.MetropolisArts.com