Matthew McGee is a star. He’s the area’s favorite cross-dressing actor, a joyous talent who’s brought his love of the stage and irrepressible humor into several local theaters without ever failing to make his performance a winner. He doesn’t only appear in drag — he’s been a donkey-eared Bottom in freeFall’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and a polymorphously perverse Dr. Frank N. Furter in American Stage’s Rocky Horror Show. But sooner or later he always turns up in women’s clothes — as he did again recently in Blown by the Wind (presented by the Suncoast Aids Theatre Project) and as he’s about to do this weekend in The Scott & Patti Show (back at freeFall, where he’s also the Community Outreach Director).
“I’d been working on a Steve and Eydie act,” McGee tells me as we chat at freeFall, “where I was basically Eydie and my friend Scott Daniel was Steve.” Brainstorming together, McGee and Daniel changed the identities of the two artists. “The idea that we went with … was that I had a flamboyant son and I’m his mother, but his mother’s more troubled than he is, like she’s more wild and more crazy.” As Patti somehow manages to remain oblivious to fact that Scott is gay, the duo sings some “songs that you wouldn’t expect for a Vegas lounge act” — Peaches and Herb’s ”Reunited,” The Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” and Sir Mixalot’s “Baby Got Back,” among others. “I thought it was a very fun idea,” says McGee. “We had the costumes, we had the outfits, and we thought, let’s go with it.”
He also had the knowledge that audiences love to see him play women’s roles. A common refrain in our discussion is that the audience demanded Matt McGee in drag. “Drag has always been a big part of what I do,” he says, “but I never wanted to go full tilt boogie, to become a female impersonator, or a ‘gender illusionist’ as they say … I think the first show that I ever did in the area was The Big Bang [at American Stage], and that was the first time I really appeared in drag around here. I did Queen Nefertiti and Cher and stuff like that, and then it just began to grow and people would throw me into a dress throughout shows. And you know, I found it to be very fun, if not exhausting, because it’s a big process, to take a 40-year-old man and put him into drag. And I’ve never been particularly glamorous or beautiful, but I’ve known how to get it all together to be a handsome woman of the stage.”
McGee grew up in Georgia, where his mother was a college instructor. He attended Valdosta State University as a theater major, graduated in 1998, and moved to New York where he auditioned constantly, and got work out of town. One of those jobs was at Hudson, Florida’s Show Palace Dinner Theatre. “I worked there for years,” McGee says, “and there I kind of cultivated a persona, and kind of built an audience for certain types of shows. And I really was lucky enough to get to play some things there like the mother in Hairspray … and Roger DeBris in The Producers. And people began to expect me to do something outrageous, or wear something outrageous, in a show.” Eventually, McGee became artistic director of the Show Palace — he left that position only last year — and then he got his first Bay area job in The Big Bang. That launched him here: he’s since been in a bunch of shows, including The Mystery of Irma Vep, Moonlight and Magnolias, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at American Stage, The Frogs, and An Empty Plate in the Café de Grand Boeuf at freeFall. And he’s already scheduled to appear in the coming year in The Mikado at freeFall, A Marvelous Party and Around the World in Eighty Days at American Stage, and The Divine Sister at Stageworks (as Mother Superior). Matthew McGee is about to become a household name.
He’s not letting it go to his head: what this “acceptance” means to him is that he’s pleasing audiences, and that’s precisely what he’s after. “I try to appeal to people,” he says. “Whenever I see people coming to a show, I want people to have a good time. Whether the show works or not, I want people to have laughed and enjoyed themselves.”
I’ve been watching McGee since that first appearance in The Big Bang and I can attest: he’s a joy to watch. Check him out this weekend or in the coming 2013-14 season. You won’t be disappointed.