Savannah Repertory Theater is prepping for opening night of a brand new show, The Legend of Georgia McBride. The play is relatively new, and is getting a ton of buzz for good reason—it's one of a few new shows written by rising playwright Matthew Lopez. Savannah Rep's Ken Hailey jumped at the chance to put the hilarious and at times moving show on his stage, as it tells an unconventional story that hasn't been done in theater before.
Ahead of opening night on April 25, we spoke to Hailey about the show and what audiences can expect.
For those who aren’t familiar, tell me a bit about this show.
Hailey: Well, the tagline we’re using is, “The story of a guy who puts on a dress to become a man.” [laughs] It’s the story of an Elvis impersonator who’s told that he can’t do Elvis at the bar anymore. He’s being replaced by drag queens. One of the drag queens tends to drink a little, and has a pretty spectacular fall on roller skates, so they have to throw the Elvis impersonator on in drag.
Turns out, he ends up being pretty good at it. He starts to enjoy it, because he sees women from another side. The problem is, he can’t bring himself to tell his wife. So it’s about him growing and changing, and of course the inevitable happens and his pregnant wife finds out. While it’s a pretty outrageous comedy, it gets pretty poignant for a while there. It’s really a very special piece.
The playwright is one of the hottest new playwrights out there. He’s a really great new voice in writing. He has another piece called The Whipping Man, which sort of took the world by storm. It didn’t make it to Broadway but it actually became the most professionally-produced show of its year about five years ago. With Georgia McBride, just like Whipping Man it didn’t make it to Broadway. But regional theaters found out about it and all of the sudden, everybody who could get the rights was doing it.
So how did you find this show, then?
Hailey: There was an actress here in town, and she gave it to me in manuscript. I have some friends in the rights releasing business, and they all told me I needed to look at this piece. We couldn’t find the right show to end the season, and this was on my desk at the time. I was going crazy trying to figure out what we were going to do in this slot. I just happened to pick this thing up.
I was reading it at home, and my partner says, “So when are you doing it?” I said, “How do you know I’m going to do it?” And he goes, “You were laughing the whole time, and then I looked over and you wiped a tear away. So I knew you were doing it.”
You mentioned the more poignant aspects of the show—can you tell me a bit more about that side of it?
Hailey: He finds out that he can’t be Elvis anymore on the same day that he finds out he’s having a baby. So he has to do this for work. But when she finds out, she has the inevitable question: are you not straight anymore? No, he hasn’t changed. But she actually learned that he has changed a little bit, and she has a bit of a change of heart as well. It’s a lovely, lovely moment.
The other thing about this play is that it is tremendously funny. Whipping Man is a heavy duty post-Civil War drama. So when I read this thing, I was not expecting it to be this funny.