For the first five years of his career, actor Zack Powell did musical theater almost exclusively – even getting a bit “burned out.” His resume of late mostly comprises the classics – Shakespeare and Chekhov, among others – although he still averages about one musical a year.
Now Powell is starring in a show he calls a cross between a straight play and a musical.
It’s “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” a play with music that is opening soon at Round House Theatre under the direction of Tom Story. Powell makes his debut as the show’s protagonist.
Casey is soon to become a father, as well as evicted. He makes his living as an Elvis impersonator but, always strapped for cash, he takes a more-lucrative job slinging drinks at a dive bar in Panama City, Florida. After the rundown bar gets a makeover, including a new stage, and one of the drag queens is unable to perform, Casey finds himself thrown into the world of stilettos and sequins.
“It’s a heartwarming, funny piece to which I felt a strong connection,” Powell said
That’s because, in part, the drag motif is both actual as well as symbolic.
“‘Georgia McBride’ is about tolerance and acceptance through knowledge,” Powell said. “The lead is very straight and very rural, and has never traveled outside his home. It’s not a life of experience, and he has judgment about drag and himself doing it.
“You could say it’s a coming-of-age story,” he added. “As a ‘good-old boy,’ Casey is embarrassed by what he’s doing to make money, and keeps it a secret from his wife for as long as possible. Of course, keeping a secret in a marriage is not a good idea.”
Powell hasn’t done drag in real life, but he said he understands where Casey is “coming from” – a young person skating by on charm and sacrificing for a better life.” Like a lot of young actors,” he suggested, laughing.
“Georgia McBride” playwright Matthew Lopez is best known for “The Whipping Man,” a drama set in post-Civil War South. He has said, though, that all his plays – both serious and comic – share a common theme, that of “home.”
To gain knowledge about the world of drag, Powell and a few other cast members caught a few shows. He also watched a few seasons of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a very popular reality-television series depicting that world.
“I didn’t realize drag was such an art form,” Powell said. “The makeup, costumes; an amalgamation of things.”
In addition to the themes, he loves the music – a compilation of original music and iconic pop culture songs sung by such performers as Judy Garland, Carol Channing, and Tammy Wynette.
An extra bonus is that the show “reignited” Powell’s love of dancing – even if it is on high heels.
The actor doesn’t want to give too much away, but he will say the play bears a resemblance to the movie “Tootsie,” in which the Dustin Hoffman character declares he learned more about being a man disguised as a woman, than he ever did as a man.
In like fashion, Casey draws lessons to “become a better man because of the drag,” Powell said.
“We can accept the play as a lovely tale, not strictly based in reality. I think audiences will love it.”
Yesenia Iglesias plays Casey’s pregnant wife, Jo. The bar owner is Charlie Kevin, Rick Hammerly is the drag queen Miss Tracy Mills, and Dezi Bing plays the dual roles of landlord Jason and Tracy’s finger-snapping sidekick Rexy.
“The Legend of Georgia McBride” runs from June 6 through July 1, at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, in Bethesda. For tickets, call 240-664-1100 or order online at www.RoundHouseTheatre.org.
Continuing the theater’s policy for 2017-2018 performances, all high-school students throughout the DC-Metro area can reserve a free ticket to the performance of their choice.