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April 21, 2019  |  

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Jamison Stern plays Miss Tracy Mills in The Legend of Georgia McBride. He is shown here in rehearsals earlier this month. Photo courtesy of TheaterWorks in Hartford

Jamison Stern plays Miss Tracy Mills in The Legend of Georgia McBride. He is shown here in rehearsals earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of TheaterWorks in Hartford )

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From left, Ralph Perkins, choreographer, with Jamison Stern, Austin Thomas, and Nik Alexander in rehearsals for The Legend of Georgia McBride, earlier this month. Photo courtesy of TheaterWorks in Hartford

From left, Ralph Perkins, choreographer, with Jamison Stern, Austin Thomas, and Nik Alexander in rehearsals for The Legend of Georgia McBride, earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of TheaterWorks in Hartford )

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From left, Nik Alexander plays Rexy/Jason, Austin Thomas plays Casey, and Jamison Stern plays Miss Tracy Mills in The Legend of Georgia McBride. They are shown here in rehearsals earlier this month. Photo courtesy of TheaterWorks in Hartford

From left, Nik Alexander plays Rexy/Jason, Austin Thomas plays Casey, and Jamison Stern plays Miss Tracy Mills in The Legend of Georgia McBride. They are shown here in rehearsals earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of TheaterWorks in Hartford )

An Escape into Drag, and a Celebration of Women as an Art Form

Published Mar 15, 2018 • Last Updated 12:40 pm, March 14, 2018

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“I guess Connecticut likes me in heels,” laughs actor Jamison Stern.

Four years ago the New York-based actor starred as Albin, the outrageous drag chanteuse in Goodspeed Musical’s production of La Cage Aux Folles.

This month the wig, lashes, and that sashay way will be back when he plays the well-seasoned drag performer Tracy in Matthew Lopez’s comedy The Legend of Georgia McBride at Hartford’s TheaterWorks. The show, staged by Rob Ruggiero, plays Friday, March 16 to Sunday, April 22. Lopez’s work has often been seen at Hartford Stage with his plays The Whipping Man, Somewhere, and the world premiere of Reverberation.

In the play, Casey, a straight young man whose career as an Elvis impersonator has tanked, turns in desperation to drag where, after being mentored by an older veteran performer—think of it as a drag version of My Fair Lady—finds that he’s the newest sensation in heels under the persona of Georgia McBride.

“Tracy is a warrior drag queen and through an accident of fate she has to turn Casey instantly into a drag queen—which is not possible in real life, I think, but through the magic of theater it happens.”

Hollywood Glam

What’s Tracy’s look going to be for the show?

“We’ve decided she is a Hollywood glam queen,” says Stern. “We’re going old school with the great ladies of theater and film,” he says. “Think Streisand, Garland, Tallulah, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and all those ultimate feminine powerful women, but I wanted to be sure I looked pretty this time.”

Because of the quick changes in La Cage there wasn’t the opportunity to do an all-out glam look for his character.

“I had to go back and forth from woman to man to woman and so forth and there’s only so much contour and stuff we could use,” he says, “but Tracy stays in drag until one scene at the end so the drag look can be special.”

It’s not an easy task to prep to get that feminine look, he says.

Total Freedom

“When I did Torch Song Trilogy years ago, I was at the theater an hour early to get ready,” he says.

Likewise for La Cage.

But it’s all worth it, he says.

“Actors have a phrase when they have to get into their character. An actor says, ‘I gotta get in my drag.’ It means it’s a total freedom to do and say almost anything. It’s so much fun as actor to get to be someone else,” he says, “and when you’re playing a role of someone who does drag ,you are truly transforming.”

With the rising of the #metoo movement, has women’s perspective of men doing drag changed?

“It’s an important movement,” he says. “I think so long as a drag performer is respecting the female persona, I think we’re OK. It’s the celebration of the woman as an art form.”

The character of Tracy, he says, is indeed celebrated in the play: “She is a powerful character, full of determination, fierceness and pride.”

Stern says anyone can do drag—gay or straight—though a gay person might have an edge.

For many years gay people have spent their lives trying to hide what they and who they are, he says.

“So there’s this escape in drag,” he says. “But straight men have things to hide, too.”

Frank Rizzo is a freelance journalist who lives in New Haven and New York City. He has been writing about theater and the arts in Connecticut for nearly 40 years.

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