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Dezart Performs’ artistic director Michael Shaw has chosen to kick off Greater Palm Springs Pride and the company’s 10th season with The Legend of Georgia McBride—and I can’t imagine a better play for him to choose. Matthew Lopez’s hilarious yet touching romp through the world of small-town drag shows hits all the right notes and is enormously entertaining.

The show opens with Casey (Sean Timothy Brown) entertaining a small crowd at a Panama City, Fla., bar with his Elvis impersonation. Though Casey is not a bad Elvis, the nightly audiences are dwindling steadily, and the bar owner, Eddie (Chet Cole), is not happy. Deciding that a drag show just might do the trick, Eddie calls his female-impersonator cousin Tracy (Michael Mullen) to help save his business. Casey is out of a job—and at the worst possible time: His young wife, Jo (Brianna Maloney), is pregnant, and their latest rent check has bounced.

Tracy soon arrives, with fellow drag queen Rexy (Hanz Enyeart) in tow. The two are a hit with the bar patrons (much to Eddie’s relief), but temperamental Rexy (short for Miss Anorexia Nervosa) has a problem with booze. When she passes out drunk one night right before her Edith Piaf number, Tracy and Eddie enlist Casey to take her place—and the financial pressures of impending fatherhood cause the initially resistant Casey to eventually give in.

Tracy’s efforts to prepare Casey for his drag debut are a hoot. Dubbing him “Georgia McBride,” Casey admonishes him to “Suck it in, bitch … beauty hurts!” while struggling with a waist-whittling corset. Her advice on what to do if he forgets the words to his lip-synced song is priceless.

After a shaky start, Casey begins relishing his new female persona, and the crowds love him. Not everyone is pleased, however. Rexy is angry about being replaced, and Jo is shocked to discover that the wads of cash her young husband is bringing home come from him prancing around onstage in sequins and lipstick.

Director Michael Shaw has once again proved his skill at casting. Each actor in The Legend of Georgia McBride is terrific. There really is not a weak link.

Chet Cole hits all the right notes as Eddie. He’s a likable, jovial and charismatic emcee for the nightly shows at his bar, but when it comes to the bottom line—what’s in the till—he can be tough as nails. When his unrecognizable cousin Tracy shows up in full drag and appears to come on to him, Eddie blurts out: “Look. I’m sure we had fun, but I’m sterile!” Eddie’s increasingly flashy attire, including his holiday-themed sunglasses and toupee, are perfect.

Brianna Maloney is adorable as Casey’s long-suffering wife, Jo. We can see how much she loves him, and their chemistry is strong. But we also understand that, with unpaid bills piling up and a baby on the way, her belief in his talent may not be enough. Maloney’s acting is quite good; however, there were times during opening night—particularly early in the play—when some of Maloney’s lines got lost. Stronger vocal projection is the answer. It’s one tiny flaw in this production, and one that can be easily remedied.

In dual roles as Rexy and Casey’s buddy and landlord, Jason, Hanz Enyeart is superb. When he makes his entrance as Rexy—clad in a leopard jumpsuit and Elton John-esque rhinestone sunglasses—it’s hard to take your eyes off him. His Amy Winehouse number, “Rehab,” is flawless. Enyeart proves he has some serious acting chops, too: His monologue recalling a severe beating he endured in his early days as a drag queen is riveting.

Sean Timothy Brown is excellent as Casey. We can feel his sincere love for Jo, his drive to succeed as an Elvis-tribute artist, and his initial hesitance about performing onstage as a woman. The audience goes along for the ride as he blossoms into a bona fide drag star, and we root for him every step of the way. It’s hard to choose a favorite among his musical numbers—they are all laugh-out-loud funny—but his Edith Piaf, and, later, Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” stood out for me.

If there is a standout in this stellar cast, it would have to be Michael Mullen as Tracy. First of all, he makes a damn good-looking broad. Though he’s been knocked around by life as a drag queen, he has a kind, maternal side to him, especially when he’s coaching Casey on the finer points of performing as a female. Mullen is one of the best drag queens I have seen: He looks great as a woman; dances well, even in 4-inch heels; and really captures the sass, attitude and humor necessary when portraying pop divas like Cher and Diana Ross. He is a fine dramatic actor as well. When he challenges Casey in an intimate scene to be honest about who he really is, you can hear a pin drop.

Huge kudos go to both Doug Graham for his amazing choreography and Kara Harmon for her costume design. James Geier’s wigs and Timothy McIntosh’s makeup design are also spot-on. The set design, sound and lighting are also top-notch.

Shaw gets the best out of everyone in the cast. The glitz and glam of the drag numbers is appropriately over-the-top, yet the emotion and humanity of the characters is very real.

Dezart Performs has offered the Coachella Valley fine theatrical productions over the past 10 years—but this is among the company’s best shows. The cast had the audience members on their feet, cheering and clapping along with the final musical number. There is only one word that sums up this incredibly entertaining night of theater: Bravo!

The Legend of Georgia McBride, a production of Dezart Performs, is performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 12, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $28 to $32. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

What better way to rev up Greater Palm Springs Pride than with a play about a struggling Elvis impersonator who finds great success … as a drag queen?

That was the thinking of Dezart Performs artistic director Michael Shaw when he chose The Legend of Georgia McBride—a play he described as heartwarming and “funny as heck”—as the opening production of the theater’s 10th anniversary season.

The Legend of Georgia McBride debuted in 2015 and has been performed successfully several times, including runs in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Dezart is using the costumes from the San Francisco production—and costuming has been very challenging, Shaw said. There are three drag-queen characters, requiring a total of 19 wigs and 20 dresses. The staging, including multiple lip-synced musical numbers, has also posed a challenge on Dezart’s relatively small stage at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club.

The story revolves around Casey (aka Georgia McBride), a beleaguered young Elvis impersonator who is barely making a living. Bill collectors are calling, and Casey has just learned that his young wife, Jo, is pregnant. Then he loses his Elvis gig at a run-down Florida bar; the owner, Eddie, brings in a mediocre drag queen named Rexy as the new entertainment. When Rexy gets too drunk to perform one night, his companion Tracy tutors Casey on the finer points of female impersonation—and a star is born.

Shaw says he easily cast the roles of Casey (Sean Timothy Brown), Jo (Brianna Maloney) and Eddie (Chet Cole) right here in the desert; the two more-seasoned drag-queen characters, Rexy (Hanz Enyeart) and Tracy (Michael Mullen), were harder to find.

“I auditioned several excellent drag queens here in the valley—and there are some darned good ones—but there is some serious dramatic acting required in this play, and being a fabulous drag queen wasn’t quite enough.” Shaw said.

So far, the cast has meshed well. “They adore each other!” Shaw said.

When asked what is unique about this play, Shaw paused. “Casey is a lost young man; he throws himself into Elvis and other characters because he really doesn’t know who he is. Casey hides behind the other personas because they are more together than he is. He is a man-child who cannot even balance his checkbook.” However, Tracy takes Casey under his wing and makes him an amazing drag queen—and a better person, too.

Just two years out of high school, young Brianna Maloney said she is thrilled to be performing in her first play with Dezart Performs. She did quite a bit of musical theater at Palm Springs High School with David Green, who introduced her to Shaw. Brianna calls her character, Jo, “the boss” in the marriage with Casey. Jo loves her husband, but she is frustrated by his irresponsibility. She knows the Elvis thing is his passion—but it’s not paying the bills, which is an even bigger problem now that a baby is coming. Still, she gets a kick out of Casey’s Elvis performances, and to some degree lives vicariously through him.

Sean Timothy Brown calls his character, Casey, a simpleton. ”He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer,” Brown said. But Casey is passionate about performing, and loves being onstage. He takes to the drag stuff quickly, and finds that “Georgia McBride” has traits he wishes he had himself.

Brown—who had never done drag before this show—worked with Shaw previously in the cast of Dezart’s production of Clybourne Park. Local audiences have also seen him in Bad Jews, by Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, and as Daddy Warbucks in Palm Springs High School’s recent production of Annie.

Shaw says that with all of the musical numbers, The Legend of Georgia McBride is unlike anything Dezart has ever done. There is no particular theme to this year’s 10th anniversary season, which will be celebrated with an anniversary party and fundraising event hosted by Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge on Sunday, Jan. 14.

Shaw said he’s looking forward to starting the season on Pride weekend with The Legend of Georgia McBride.

“It’s a play with a heart of gold,” Shaw said. “It’s so much fun!”

Dezart Performs’ The Legend of Georgia McBride will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Nov. 3, through Sunday, Nov. 12, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $40 for opening night with a post-show reception; $32 for evening performances; and $28 for matinees. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Pamela Kershaw Cole is one of those rare people who always seem to be in a good mood. Every encounter I have with her leaves me smiling.

One of the reasons for her infectious mood is her husband, Chet. “He first asked me (to marry him) when I was only 44,” says Cole with a laugh, “but I thought I was too young!”

Now, after six years together—almost five married—they have matching tattoos, his on his arm, and hers on her back, commemorating their wedding date: 12/12/12.

Cole was born in San Francisco in the “Summer of Love,” 1967. After some moves, she began eighth-grade in the Coachella Valley, graduated from Palm Springs High School, and currently lives in Cathedral City. Cole graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, with a degree in education; received her master’s degree in education administration from Azusa Pacific University; and earned her doctorate in organizational leadership from the University of La Verne.

“I started teaching in 1996 in Cathedral City with third-grade students,” says Cole. “Now I specialize in non-English-speaking students, focusing on language development. Over the years, I’ve taught almost every grade, from kindergarten to eighth-grade.

“This year, I have sixth- through eighth-graders. Most of my students are total newcomers to English. I speak a little Spanish, which helps, but recently, I had a student from the Philippines who spoke neither English nor Spanish. I even have one student this year who has never been in a school classroom before.

“I get a really diverse group each year—kids who are super-smart academically, but who have little experience in a classroom. They’re eager, and they often show a different kind of respect, having come from families that have worked so hard to get here. Research says that it takes five to seven years in a new country to become fluent in the language. It’s exceptionally challenging … and so rewarding.”

Cole is the eldest in her family; a brother, John Kershaw, lives in Yucca Valley. Her mom died at 50 after a difficult fight with cancer. Her dad then lived in Reno—which helped lead her to do her undergrad work there.

“My mom gave me some really good advice,” says Cole. “Work hard, play hard. I’ve tried to live up to that. My grandfather was a colonel in the Marine Corps, so I learned about integrity from him, but I learned about character from my mom. She was an amazing woman who always had a good sense of the need for balance in life. Caretaking is very hard, but it was a real time of growth for me.”

I met Cole through local theater: We both participated in a staged reading with Script to Stage to Screen, a local company that does staged readings of brand-new plays. I was blown away by her natural ease onstage—especially compared to what I felt were my own awkward and unrealistic efforts.

“Chet, although he does teach sixth-grade, is really the actor in the family,” Cole laughs. “He studied acting. He says I’m interesting as an actor, but I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Trust me, you’d never know it!

“I started with S2S2S in 2012,” says Cole, “and it’s my only acting ever. I’ve never taken classes or workshops, but I must admit I love it. The truth is, I told myself about a month before I met Chet that I wanted to meet a man with a kid and find time to do community theater. (Chet has a 9-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.) I have to admit that the worst part for me is the applause: Although I may be gregarious, I don’t really like being the center of attention. What I most enjoy is the character development—the intuitive ability to develop ways to make a character come to life, to take a two-dimensional person and make them real.”

Cole has proven her ability to do that: She recently received a Desert Stars Award from the Desert Theatre League for Outstanding Supporting Female Performer in a Staged Reading, for her role in The Exit Strategy Club.

Cole’s connection to theater helped lead her to establish a theater for students: “I’m writing short versions of classic stories and directing, doing costumes and sets,” she says. And lest you think Cole has any free time, she also coaches new teachers for Riverside County, and teaches for Walden University online.

Cole has traveled some—to Europe a couple of times, to Puerto Rico, and around the U.S. “We got to visit Kershaw County in South Carolina. I found some ‘kinfolk,’” she laughs. “But if I have a bucket list, I’d either be in Florence, Italy, or at Lake Tahoe. My dad had a boat, and we spent some really good time together there. As hard as it was when my mom died, I think losing my dad was harder to handle. When your second parent dies, it feels like, ‘There goes my anchor.’”

Cole’s advice to local students: “Whatever you want to do, be fearless. My mom raised me with no money, but she always said to try everything and to put myself out there.

“Don’t have regrets. Try things. Life is short, and we only get to do it one time.”

Pam Cole is making the most of her one time.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors