By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out“)
When the shutdown of Broadway occurred in March of 2020, there were few devotees who expected it to drag on for more than 16 months. Even fewer experts could have predicted the insatiable desire for the public to see live theatre again.
With no venues open, a niche market sprang up overnight for historic theatrical recordings and previously recorded stage events, which could be viewed from the safety of one’s home.
At the time of the shutdown, only a handful of recorded material was being withheld, pending a future release date with a big payday such as the films of the original cast of Hamilton and The Prom, which only had a few remaining scenes to be shot. There were far more many instances where performances had been recorded for posterity and which became fodder for entertainment-starved virtual audiences.
One such hidden gem is Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose, a critically acclaimed one-man, off Broadway show that was written by and starred character actor Ed Dixon and filmed in 2017. Part performance and part memoir, Dixon channels Rose like few ever could or would. A two-time Tony Award winner, Rose, a British actor, lived life loudly and proudly as a gay man at a time when such things were simply not done.
The anecdotes about the colorful Rose are plentiful and oftentimes wild and uproarious. But it is the expert use of diction, speech pattern and accents that Dixon employs to summon up all of the various figures he recalls and other specific details that make this a genuine lesson in exquisite acting.
When Dixon recalls Rose’s entrance in The Pirates of Penzance in the celebrated role of the Major General for which he was nominated for a Tony, he holds his imaginary riding crop up to his side so very naturally that one can almost perceive its shadow being cast onto the stage.
Dixon received a Drama Desk Award for One Person Show for this work on the two decades long story of his professional and personal relationship with Rose, but it required years to come to fruition. It took more than a quarter of a century for Dixon to feel mature enough and ready in his intention to tackle this complex role.
When he ascends the stage, Dixon holds the rapt attention of the crowd as he first regales them with his tale of meeting Rose, more than 30 years his senior. Dixon, who was a young and carefree gay man himself, had been hired as a dashing singer for an operetta because he was more than a capable singer and actor. Dixon describes meeting Rose, the character actor hired for the production, and then working side by side with him, eventually becoming close friends.
The stories about the cantankerous Rose show Dixon’s genuine affection for the man and his enduring admiration for his skills and choices as an actor. The play also has its darker side, which reflect some of Rose’s personal life choices, but thankfully, these are few and mostly confined to the latter portion of the work when the subject of his demise is addressed.
Tragically, Rose died a victim of foul play in 1988 in the Dominican Republic at the age of 68. Dixon does not dwell on the subject of his demise, but rather affirms the manner in which he lived. The play is crafted with love as a remembrance to his mentor and friend and Dixon is luminescent in the role.
Georgie was directed by Eric Schaeffer and filmed before a live audience with a bare stage except for a single wingback chair and rigging reminiscent of an old hemp house theater, an homage to the golden age of Broadway associated with Rose.
Developed at the Sharon Playhouse, the work was first produced in 2016 at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia before opening at the now defunct Davenport Theatre a year later in February of 2017.
Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose is available from Theatermania.com for unlimited streaming with tickets at $25 through July 18.