'McBride' opens at Dorset; promises 'dancing in aisles'


DORSET, Vt. — Regional theater fans might wonder if they are seeing double this season with a word showing up again and again in Dorset Theatre Festival's 40th anniversary season: premiere.

It's not a coincidence or an accident. With one world premiere, two regional premieres, and one regional revival in four shows, DTF is establishing itself as a venue for landmark showings in the area.

Its third play of the season is the regional premiere of award-winning playwright Matthew Lopez's well-regarded play, "The Legend of Georgia McBride," which runs through Aug. 19 in a string of 16 performances, each one about 90 minutes with no intermission.

Executive artistic director Dina Janis has a special connection to this play based on her early history at DTF. Early in her tenure in the Northshire, Janis, who was brought on board in 2010, made her Dorset directorial debut with the smash-hit and critically acclaimed Lopez offering, "The Whipping Man."

Janis said the two plays have some nuanced parallels, but ultimately are unique because of the playwright's vision.

"Lopez is so chameleon-like as a writer," Janis said. "What remains constant is the humanity that comes through in all of his characters, despite the style of the play. In many ways, this play couldn't be more different than `The Whipping Man.'"

"The Legend of Georgia McBride," Janis continued, is highly comedic, and a visual feast with "splashy show-stopping numbers," 24 original costumes and dancing in very high heels.

"The play is one of the top 10 plays produced nationally this year, with hit productions across the country, extended runs and great acclaim," she said.

In the story, Casey is young and penniless, and his spouse is having a baby when he loses his job as an Elvis impersonator. Still, his club brings in a drag act led by Miss Tracy Mills, so Casey is given the opportunity to trade one sequined outfit for another.

Joey Taranto leads the cast as Elvis-impersonator-turned-drag-queen Casey. David Turner, who delighted audiences last season at DTF in Theresa Rebeck's "The Way of the World," will portray Miss Tracy Mills. Denny Dale Bess will stand in as Eddie, the club manager. Vasthy Mompoint will be Jo, Casey's wife, and Jon Norman Schneider will play Rexy/Jason, Miss Tracy Mills' complement and Casey and Jo's landlord, respectively.

Given that the play centers on night club acts, musical themes abound, according to Janis. The show has been prominently billed in its lead up as "music filled," but this year's audiences will not see the night club table seating available to crowd members last season in DTF's run of "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill."

"We are not doing club tables, but are using our extended platform stage, which we introduced for `Lady Day,'" Janis said. "There are many performed drag numbers, in lip sync and fully choreographed with costumes by the genius designer Bobby Tilley."

Janis added that audience members will find the music of the play enthralling.

"It's all very feel-good, and let's just say people are going to be wowed by these numbers and dancing in the aisles by the time we get to the end of the show," she said.

Past all the fun of this play, life stories still matter, and this is where the regional premiere fits in, with DTF making conscious efforts to bring plays to the stage as early in their development as possible that can speak to audiences on a variety of topics.

As such, "The Legend of Georgia McBride," examines many timely societal themes, to include, but not limited to: drag culture, LGBTQ issues, economic matters plaguing rural America and addressing the fear of "other and different" in seeking out shared humanity that binds people together.

"We like to produce theater that matters," Janis said. "That means finding stories that are compelling, moving and even funny and highly entertaining. This play is about people trying to survive nobly and with integrity and honesty. And it does so in a spectacular way. There is a reason it has been so successful anywhere it's been produced. Audiences who make the trip to see it will find out why."

Reach award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias at tchalkias@aol.com, Twitter: @Telly Halkias

If you go ...

What: "The Legend of Georgia McBride"

When: Playing now through Aug. 19

Where: Dorset Theatre Festival, 104 Cheney Rd., Dorset, Vt.

Information: 802-867-2223, dorsettheatrefestival.org


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