You know times are tough when even an Elvis impersonator can’t make a living in a small, redneck Florida town.
Casey is a good ol’ country boy who loves to lip-sync to Elvis’ Las Vegas hits.
But when his audience dwindles to zero, he loses his job.
The money’s not coming in, his wife announces she’s pregnant, and the landlord is threatening to evict them.
The dive bar where he performed brings in some second-tier drag queens to replace him.
And then one night, Casey discovers that sequins are sequins, whether they’re on an Elvis jumpsuit or a gown.
This is the premise of “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” opening at the Florida Repertory Theater Oct 24 (through Nov. 12).
“It’s a laugh-out-loud, side-splitting, heartfelt comedy,” says Florida Rep Associate Artistic Director Jason Parrish, who’s directing the show. “People are going to be having a blast. Then it sneaks up on you with heart.
“It’s one of those… (shows) where you walk away feeling good. It’s an out-and-out comedy.”
He describes “The Legend of Georgia McBride” as “a show about your chosen family with a love story at the center.”
Everyone in the show, he says, is feeling desperate: Casey and his wife, the two drag queens whose car has broken down in the bar’s parking lot, the bar owner who wants his place to stay open and be profitable.
When one of the two drag queens is too drunk to perform, Casey is coaxed into performing in her place at the last minute.
“He winds up being really good at it and loving it,” Parrish says. “He’s a performer. He already knows how to lip sync. He comes to realize that there’s more to this than he thought there was. But he keeps it a secret from his wife.”
This play by Matthew Lopez “is about family, chosen family, and how you find common ground in the places you least expect it. People are just people. We’re all complicated and trying to figure out life.”
The venue chose the show before Florida’s anti-drag law went into effect.
But in June, a federal judge blocked the law, declaring it overly vague and likely unconstitutional.
“It’s by no means political, it’s not a preachy play,” says Parrish. “It’s just a funny comedy that happens to involve drag queens, seen through the eyes of a straight guy.
“A good play is a good play. It’s harmless, like ‘Birdcage’ is harmless.”
Parrish and crew are working closely with local drag performer and headliner Alyssa Lemay, who is the show’s drag consultant.
“We know there’s a strong drag scene here,” Parrish says, noting that restaurants in the Fort Myers area have drag brunches and drag bingo. “I think it’s so important to make that part of the play authentic,” he says.
He’s known the performer known as Alyssa Lemay for a while; they went to college together.
“We wanted her input about wigs, how to make costumes.”
The performers in the play are actors, not professional drag queens, he explains.
“We also wanted to make sure the community here in town felt included,” he says.
In addition, it’s a way to do cross-promotion.
“A lot of people who go to drag shows may not know that (Florida Rep) exists. This is one of the great ways to do it.
“We’re borrowing costumes and some wig items. We’re borrowing a lot of wisdom.”
Though the show is a play, it will feel like a musical, Parrish says.
“There are some amazing drag numbers in the show. People will hear Judy Garland all the way through Cher, and some country stuff too —Dolly. Loretta Lynn might make an appearance. You get all the classic drag diva stuff too.”
Each theater gets to choose its own drag music, so each venue’s production is different.
“You get to see the character who’s an Elvis impersonator as he creates a new persona,” Parrish says. “You see his musical DNA evolve. He pulls the Elvis into his drag numbers, into his unique creation.
“It’s such a celebration. It celebrates theater, theater artists. It’s a comedy and it feels like a musical. There are some times when it feels like a farce. And it sneaks up on you with some heavy drama in a couple places. There’s a little bit of something for everyone.
“I saw this show once before, and my face hurt from smiling. I hurt from laughing so much. Just check your worries at the door and come in and watch a really fabulous show.” ¦
In the KNOW
‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’
· When: Oct. 24-Nov. 12
· Where: Florida Repertory Theatre, 2268 Bay Street, Fort Myers
· Cost: $65
· Information: 239-332-4488 or www.floridarep.org