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Theatre Review: Ensemble's "Legend of Georgia McBride"

So there’s this Elvis impersonator drawing flies when he’s onstage at a crap bar in Panama City Beach, Fla. and the joint’s owner decides drag will be w-a-y more lucrative.

He has a pregnant wife, he needs the dough. Clearly it’s time to trade in the King’s jumpsuit for a queen’s lipstick, gown, and heels.

Ensemble opens its 2016-2017 season with The Legend of Georgia McBride, which sells itself as nothing more than a good time. Playwright Matthew Lopez delivers lots of sassy zingers, real affection for and understanding of the drag life and a G-rated drag extravaganza in miniature which pleased the opening night audience mightily.

There’s also a script that’s all over the place. There’s so much here it would be worth the effort to focus it, deepen it, and cut at least 15 minutes. One thing that could get sliced pretty easily is the credulity-challenging conflict between our young hero Casey (Michael Carr) and his wife. Better to spend more time digging a little into Casey’s distaste for his new job.

Smartly directed by D. Lynn Meyers, Georgia McBride’s biggest asset is fave area actor Bruce Cromer, taking a break from years of iconic stage roles for a diva sashay across the ETC stage. On opening night he needed to relax a little, but no biggie, he had the audience at hello.

The action is set mostly ‘backstage,’ where, thanks to designer Brian c. Mehring, you can practically smell the sour beer and keep a cautious eye out for palmetto bugs (a.k.a. the Florida woods cockroach). Brian Horton provides the parade of costumes which seem to have suffered some from time and/or budget constraints.

Carr does a nice job evolving Casey from novice to legend. He executes the show’s funniest bit – Casey’s introduction to foundation garments – with emotional honesty. Panhandle lifer Casey has a purely Midwest accent – the absence of the real thing is glaring.

The always-terrific Michael Bath is dandy as the weary bar owner (don’t go looking for a hidden heart of gold) and Darnell Pierre Benjamin gets through early clichés with his head held high and is rewarded with the 11 o’clock number, a crowd-pleasing “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”. He also gets a serious, late-in-the-action monologue about life in drag which, like so much else in the play, comes in from left field.

Margaret Ivey does as well as can be expected with what is the essentially two-dimensional role of Casey’s wife, Jo.

The Legend of Georgia McBride, through Sept. 25. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 1028 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $44 adults, $25 students. Preview (Sept. 6) $28. Rush tickets: $15 student and 1/2-price adult, may be purchased by phone or in person at the box office when available. 513-421-3555 and www.ensemblecincinnati.org.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
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