reviewed by Adam Crowe

The 2019-2020 Indianapolis theatrical Season has begun. There is something special about being in the audience for a sold-out season opener that makes my soul happy. That is doubly true when the show is as much fun as The Phoenix Theatre’s season opener The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez. Directed by the phenomenal Suzanne Fleenor (a Phoenix founder), The Legend of Georgia McBride is not edgy or especially political. What it IS is wonderfully entertaining. And credit for that fact goes entirely to the cast and design team.

Lopez’s script introduces us to the denizens of a run-down bar in Florida’s panhandle. Casey is an Elvis impersonator who can’t pull in a crowd. Bar owner Eddie is on the verge of bankruptcy when he hits upon the idea of bringing in his performer cousin to save the business. The twist is that his cousin performs as Miss Tracy Mills. Miss Tracy and her friend Rexxy bring Eddie their drag show. The Elvis act is summarily dumped and Casey is relegated to bartending. That is, until Rexxy becomes unavailable and Casey is pulled onstage – creating the (soon-to-be-legendary) Miss Georgia McBride.

The script itself is fun. But it is the incredible talents on and off stage at the Phoenix that make this production soar! Sam Jones is a sweet and heartfelt Casey, with Bridgette Ludlow as his loving, if confused wife Jo. Local favorite Ty Stover makes his Phoenix debut as the exasperated bar owner Eddie. As Miss Mills’ protégé, Phoenix newcomer Jonathan Studdard is terrific in double roles as Miss Anorexia (Rexxy) Nervosa and Casey’s friend and landlord Jason. All four are delightful. But the heart of the show belongs to John Vessels as the effervescent, ingenious and foul-mouthed Miss Tracy Mills. Vessels owns the stage and is simply perfection as the not-so-young-as-she-used-to-be Mills. Bringing hope and heart to Casey and Eddie both, Miss Tracy is a dazzling theatrical confection. Vessels performance is not to be missed. It may turn out to be the Performance of the Season!!

The Legend of Georgia McBride is NOT a drag show, but a play with a lot of heart that features some wonderful drag numbers. The design elements, by Andrew Elliot (hair), Stephen Hollenbeck (costumes), Laura Glover (lights), Lyndsey Lyddan (set), Zach Rosing (sound), Kenny Shepard (choreography), and Brent Marty (music) are ALL first rate and elevate the show immeasurably.

The Legend of Georgia McBride runs through October 6th. Indianapolis’ Phoenix Theatre is located at 705 N. Illinois Street. Free parking is available at the theatre’s own parking lot, just across Illinois street. Tickets may be purchased by visiting the website www.phoenixtheatre.org or by calling (317) 635-7529.  I cannot recommend this production enough. Tickets will sell very quickly – so get them while you can.