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Ed Dixon (Photo courtesy of Ed Dixon )
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A friend of actor-writer Ed Dixon came up to him after a reading of a new solo work he had just written and performed and said flatly: “You can’t tell this story.”
Dixon was stunned but then thought, “But It happened to me and it’s my story.”
At first the work Georgie, seemed straight-forward and innocuous enough. It was a solo show about Dixon’s years-long friendship with two-time Tony Award-winning actor George Rose. It was filled with amusing and slightly bitchy backstage theatrical anecdotes with Dixon doing a spot-on imitation of the British character actor who was murdered in 1988 in the Dominican Republic.
But how do you do a show about one of the wittiest and most beloved actors on Broadway—his award-winning performances were as Dolittle in My Fair Lady and in The Mystery of Edwin Drood—who also had a terrible secret life that ended in a lurid killing?
It wasn’t the first time Dixon, a regular at Connecticut theaters for decades—most recently in Sweeney Todd at Connecticut Repertory Theatre at UConn—had written about his friend. Dixon’s 2012 theatrical memoir Secrets of a Life On Stage...And Off talked about Rose and his shocking death.
But reading about it is one thing. To perform it on stage in front of an audience is something else, especially when Rose’s life story turns deadly dark. Rose was fatally beaten by his 18 year-old adopted son and three other men, who attempted to make the murder of the 68 year-old actor look like a car accident.
Dixon, who has tweaked his show since its successful off-Broadway run, will perform his Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose on Friday, Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. as part of the Cabaret and Performance Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford.
Dixon had visited Rose on the Caribbean island shortly before the murder—unaware of Rose’s secret life—and was horrified to witness Rose’s penchant for young boys and frequenting a house of child prostitution. Dixon said he immediately returned home to New York shaken to his core, but not before a harrowing incident that could have been a precursor to Rose’s eventual murder and which he dramatically recounts in the show.
“I didn’t know if it was possible to tell it,” Dixon says. “The idea of making sense of it all has been a project that has taken me three decades.”
But Dixon eventually realized he could tell Rose’s story by telling his own.
The show begins with Dixon as a young actor starting out in the early ’70s in a touring production of The Student Prince, where he first met Rose, who played Lutz, the prince’s valet, in a show-stealing performance gleaned from years in the English music halls.
Later in New York, their friendship continued when Dixon was enchanted by Rose’s theater stories and where he had his first glimpse of Rose’s strangeness. (Rose’s Manhattan apartment included a small mountain lion.)
The final third of the play takes its deadly, disturbing turn as Dixon details the discovery of Rose’s secret Caribbean life, an incident that put both men in danger, and, finally, Rose’s death.
He says the overarching theme of the show is how “sometimes you can idolize someone, or love someone, and then find out something terrible about that person. But all that love doesn’t just evaporate. It still lives forever in your memory and your heart.”
He has performed the show among his many acting gigs. He will do the show at the O’Neill between rehearsals for a new musical based on the film Grumpy Old Men at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine.
“I had no idea how people were going to respond to Georgie,” says Dixon, but adds the reactions from audiences and critics have largely been positive.
“It’s a great object lesson about the more specific you can be about something, the more universal it actually becomes,” says Dixon. “It’s the fact that I speak so personally about such an odd and unique experience is what actually makes people identify with it through my eyes.
“In the end, this is actually my story,” he says. “This is what happened to me and how I was able to rise above the difficulties that I suffered from it. My hope is the audience can identify with that.”
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