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“The Legend of Georgia McBride” celebrates community and embraces change through the power of drag

The newest production from Charlottesville community theater center Live Arts is an exciting performance with incredible heart

<p>Through his drag odyssey, Casey learns to better understand the world of drag and the plight of the LGBTQIA+ community.</p>

Through his drag odyssey, Casey learns to better understand the world of drag and the plight of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Since March 4, the local theater group Live Arts has been celebrating the exciting, complex and uplifting world of drag performance through their beautiful — and far from orthodox — production of “The Legend of Georgia McBride” by playwright Matthew Lopez. 

The play’s protagonist is Casey, a young Elvis impersonator — played by Class of 2021 alumnus Brandon Bolick — who has fallen on hard times. His act hasn’t been bringing in enough money to pay rent, his wife Jo — played by second-year College student Danait Haddish — has a baby on the way and two drag queens from New York have also just taken his gig as a late-night entertainer at the local bar in his small Florida town — what is he to do? 

With much encouragement and makeup tips from the new drag mother Miss Tracy Mills, he becomes a drag queen himself, with the name “Georgia McBride.” 

The “fish-out-out-of-water” premise of the story definitely allows for a lot of great humor to emerge. The audience watches Casey fumble his way through terrible Edith Piaf impressions, painful corsets and many misunderstood pop cultural references. All the while, the hilarious Miss Tracy Mills — played by local actor Randy Risher — provides sidesplitting commentary and wit along the way. 

However, the production also packs an incredible emotional punch. In the spirit of classic drag films like “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything!” and “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” the transgressive art of these out-of-town queens truly enlivens the culture of their new environment — teaching a small community to embrace the liberation of change. 

The relationship between Miss Tracy and Casey is also a beautiful dynamic, as the drag maternalism of Miss Tracy is the catalyst for Casey’s journey of discovery and confidence. 

Through his drag odyssey, Casey learns to better understand the world of drag and the plight of the LGBTQ+ community. The drag queen Rexy — played by local actor Jude Hansen — even reminds him of the important political history of drag late in the show, stating that “drag isn’t a hobby or a night job,” but a “protest.” 

He also gains a significantly changed sense of self, as becoming “Georgia” forces him to make some serious realizations about who “Casey” is. The “legend” of Casey and Georgia, therefore, playfully suggests that maybe becoming another person can be a great way to find yourself. 

The story is not told solely through traditional dialogue and character action, however, as there are a number of musical performances by both Georgia and the other queens. By incorporating elements of the traditional theater model and more inventive views of stage production, the play gives actors the freedom to display fun and triumphant lip-sync performances to various songs. 

It also helps Casey’s transition — from an unconfident, reluctant performer to a self-assured queen who can really light up a room — ring true, as the audience gets to see it happen before their very eyes. 

Stunning musical performances like these are not usually meant to be watched in the still, stuffy silence of a normal theater. Drag is a uniquely interactive experience, which is something that Jason Elliot, producer consultant and Class of 2013 alumnus, found necessary to incorporate in this production. Elliott has performed as a drag queen and drag announcer for many years, and brought those experiences to this production in really incredible ways. 

“One of the things that sets drag entertainment apart from any other concert venue, or sporting event, is that we do tip and [the queens] interact with the crowd,” Elliott said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “Right off the bat, we knew that we wanted this show to be one where the audience felt comfortable hooting and hollering... [and] getting up out of their seats, safely of course, to tip the entertainers.”

Each audience member is given a few “Drag Bux” — specially printed Monopoly-style cash with RuPaul’s face emblazoned on the front — as they walk in the theater. These dollars are used to “tip” the actors during their musical performances, making an experience truly akin to a real drag show. These interactive features also have the effect of creating a new experience for audience members each night, thereby celebrating what makes theater so special as a medium. 

“Anytime you see a production on stage, the actors are going to slip up on a line or costume … but with this production, the audience changes every night,” Elliott said. “The actors may say the exact same thing or wear the exact same thing. But when the audience is so different, who it is, it becomes a whole new experience.” 

In the present day, drag performance has become more popularized than ever, with television shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” bringing the artistic medium to the forefront of popular culture. Yet, there is still something uniquely true about the intimate story that Georgia McBride tells. 

As Elliott points out, this story “highlights the growth of drag,” as the audience follows Casey from unsure beginnings to stunning performances. In a matter of two hours, Elliott said, the audience sees “this person go from never having been in a pair of heels to… becoming this icon.”

Despite the ever-growing presence of drag culture in the media, however, highlighting diverse and meaningful stories from the LGBTQ+ community always remains politically important. This year has shown the upsetting governmental power that anti-LGBT reactionary movments can have— with the passage of the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill and the proposal of a number of anti-trans youth bills in a number of state legislatures, including Texas and Alabama. 

Artistic expression can often spur meaningful political conversations, and bringing stories from the queer community to the stage allows both those within and outside the community to learn and grow in a comfortable space — while reveling in the joys of live performance altogether. 

“Live Arts has really made a stance with bringing this to their stage to say that Live Arts and hopefully then by extension, our community is welcome,” Elliott said. “And not only welcoming of people who are ‘different’, but a home where we can cultivate our culture and our community.” 

Elliot expressed the deep connection that this story has to his understanding of the Charlottesville community, especially the idea of inclusion, growth and family within the production. 

“That's all things that I associated with Charlottesville, and with my home here, so it felt like it was really hitting home for me,” Elliot said. 

Live Arts’ production of “The Legend of Georgia McBride” will be showing every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday until March 27th. Tickets are $35 for adults and $25 for students, and on Wednesday, they will be having a special “Pay-What-You-Can” performance.