Casey (Kyle Igneczi) discovers his inner drag queen, thanks to his boss (Bradley Campbell) and the glamorous and defiant Miss Tracy (Walter Lee). (Photo courtesy Mike Morgan)

The quirky appeal of ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor

Casey (Kyle Igneczi) is a lovable loser. He struggles to make a living in the Florida Panhandle while his wife Jo (Sky Williams) works as a waitress. She tolerates and even encourages his dream of being a performer, but realities are setting in: The rent is due, they are about to have a baby, and he spends more money in his costumes as an Elvis impersonator than he ever hopes of bringing in, working for nonexistent tips at a beachside club run by a sad-sack redneck (Bradley Campbell). Casey loses his gig when the boss hires his cousin, a drag queen named Miss Tracy (Walter Lee) to mount a new show in a last-ditch effort to save the club.

The Legend of Georgia McBride is an apt companion piece to Uptown Players’ most recent production, The Full Monty. Both are about financially out-of-luck men who hesitantly but inescapably embark on a course that proves ultimately lucrative, but actually become acts of passion, of defiance, of empowerment. In Monty, they strip naked; in McBride, Casey is conscripted into becoming a drag queen.

The latter is a better premise, believe it or not, and this show is ripe with great one-liners, engaging characters and the energy of an actual drag show. The playwright, Matthew Lopez, has a sitcom-y sensibility, but that’s not a bad thing; only the complication — when Jo finds out what Casey has really been up to — smacks of predictable contrivance. But the jokes are solid and the production a charming lark.

Director Bruce R. Coleman has cast the show well, with Campbell mining priceless comic bits from minimal dialogue (he goes from glum announcer to flamboyant impresario hilariously), and Chris Herrero as the bitchy diva queen Anorexia Nervosa captures that oh-no-she-di’int chica head bop to perfection. But the standouts are Igneczi and Lee.

In the last few years, Igneczi has established himself as one of the most promising leading-man types on local stages. He’s fiercely likeable as Casey, a bundle of energetic nerves and open-faced vulnerability. His progression from defeated artist to Tootsie-like star feels earned and evolutionary. Lee, who not only acts and sings but appears in clubs as actual drag queen Jada Fox, is the go-to talent for cross-dressing roles but has proven over and over his acting chops as well. He sets the tone for the play’s Big Moral Lesson — that drag is not about men prancing around in frocks for fun but borne of a culture of self-realization and the essence of what we call gay Pride — with heart, but not mawkishness.

The show itself delights. While the ending stretches out a tad too long, the finale is well worth is — a Mamma Mia-esque hit parade of disco numbers lip synched and twerked with panache. Shantay, you all can stay.