ShareThis Page
Elvis impersonator is a drag queen in ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ play | TribLIVE.com
Allegheny

Elvis impersonator is a drag queen in ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ play

Paul Guggenheimer
742052_web1_RIED3984

Since Elvis Presley’s death over four decades ago, there have been tens of thousands of Elvis impersonators in garish, sequined costumes doing their part to keep The King’s legend alive.

Some are more successful than others. So, what happens when an Elvis impersonator reaches the end of the line? Does he check into “Heartbreak Hotel”?

“The Legend of Georgia McBride,” opening Thursday at Barebones Black Box Theater in Braddock, takes this scenario and turns it on its head: Elvis leaves the building and returns as a drag queen.

The play, written by Matthew Lopez and making its Pittsburgh premiere, tells the story of Casey, a young Elvis impersonator struggling to make ends meet. When he is fired from his gig as an Elvis impersonator in a small town Florida bar, he’s forced to take a job as a lip-synching drag queen and accidentally becomes one of the most sought after drag queens in the Panhandle.

For a company known for gritty plays like “A Steady Rain,“ “Lobby Hero,” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the show is a step in a different direction.

“I’d say this play still has some grit, but it is a bit of a departure for us,” says Patrick Jordan, Barebones Artistic Director who is directing the production. “We’ve all been so beat up lately with the barrage of negativity and conflict, we found the perfect piece that brings themes of acceptance and transformation to the forefront. In addition, it’s a chance to really let our hair down here.”

At the center of the fun is actor Andrew Swackhammer who, after working in New York, has returned to Pittsburgh to play Casey.

“This character is a smiley, positive dude whose world crumbles around him and he has no choice but to accept the first offer that comes his way because he has a family to support,” says Swackhammer. “And because he’s such a loving person, he allows the bar to transform him into this role.”

Swackhammer says there is a definite challenge to playing an easy going country boy, happy with his life as an Elvis impersonator, to extending well beyond the character’s comfort zone to create an acid-tongued drag performer.

“It’s really difficult because he starts out as an Elvis impersonator, then he gets into his regular street clothes, and goes back into Elvis, and then you have the physicality of a straight man trapped in a female drag persona, trying to let the audience see the details of this person still finding his womanhood,” said Swackhammer.

Jordan says the audience will find a lot of humor in Casey’s scenes with his “Obi-Wan Kenobi” of drag, Tracy Mills played by Shua Potter, who has returned to Pittsburgh after years of working as a drag queen in New York. It’s the character of Tracy who helps him come up with his drag name, Georgia McBride.

“The transformation that Andrew goes through is amazing,” said Jordan. “It’s something to behold for the audience. The man is doing everything. He is singing, he’s dancing, he’s playing the guitar and he’s dancing in high heels on top of everything else. ”

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” also marks the return to the Pittsburgh stage of actor David Conrad of “The Ghost Whisperer” and “Agents of SHIELD” fame. He last worked with Jordan on “Burn This,” produced by Conrad at the New Hazlett Theater in 2009. In “Georgia McBride” he plays the bar owner who decides to bring in a drag act to save his business.

“I never get cast in character parts so it’s great to do this,” said Conrad. “I haven’t read a play that I thought was this well constructed in terms of being dramatically entertaining, runs like a train, hits the ground running, doesn’t stop, great lyrics, great lines. And it’s positive and joyful. The play is about finding your voice.”

Jordan says there is a lot packed into the 90-minute show. “There’s a lot going on. An overarching theme of the play is tolerance. And listening to one another and accepting people for who they are, not who you think they should be.”

Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.