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Martha Graham Cracker (aka Dito van Reigersberg) Tutors Drag in New Arden Play

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Oct 12, 2016

Cabaret chanteuse Martha Graham Cracker (aka Dito van Reigersberg) doesn't back down from belting out everything from the Delta blues to German art songs and covers of Queen. But his role as Miss Tracy Mills in "The Legend of Georgia McBride" by Matthew Lopez and directed by Emmanuelle Depech, presents van Reigersberg with different vocal challenge, namely lip-syncing.

"I heard about the show last year in New York, then Terry mentioned that there there's this show about a drag queen the Arden (Theatre) wanted to do but only if I would do it," the actor said between rehearsals last week while shaving his chest. "Martha can be a hairy queen, but Tracy is definitely not" he joked.

He then added, "I thought 'Oh no! I'm getting typecast,' but this part is so different and lip-sync performing is a whole other art form."

"This crazy story of this play is about a bar in Panama City, Florida that's on the skids, and I play the owner's cousin Miss Tracy Mills. The regular act, an Elvis impersonator named Casey, a straight man, is not bringing in customers, so he gets dropped kicked into drag." The show co-stars Mikeah Ernest Jennings, Stefanee Martin, Damien Wallace and Matteo Scammell as Casey.


A fun explosion

The story takes a "My Fair Lady"-ish turn when Tracy teaches Casey how to dance in heels and tucking it in, as well as the fine art of lip-syncing.

"At first Casey is terrible, but ends up being very good at it, because he was already used to lip-syncing as Elvis and he also has those beautiful swivel hip moves," the actor said as he slips into Tracy's honeyed accent. "The show has pathos," he assures "but it's a fun explosion of ridiculous romping. I think of Tracey as a Julia Sugarbaker, and of course, once I start talking like her I can't stop."

What proved the biggest challenge was the fine art of lip-syncing. "It's hard creating the illusion without the sound coming out," explains van Reigersberg. "There is over articulation physically, jaw wriggles and lip shimmying, for instance. It's almost like creating an animated character. In the play you get to see the onstage glamour and illusion, but you also get a peek into everybody's trials and tribulations."

What isn't difficult for van Reigersberg is the choreography, a former Graham school student, in fact and can plie or dance backward in heels as necessary. The play's choreographer Melanie Cotton is a former Rennie Harris PureMOVEMENT dancer, and van Reigersberg said "Melanie can work in every style, including showdance" to numbers like "Whatever Lola Wants" to "I'm Coming Out."

Van Reigersberg is also one of Philly's most versatile actors, and also is co-director and writer at Pig Iron Theatre, where he has performed everything from a play about poet Garcia Lorca (performed on alternate nights in English and Spanish) to rock star Freddie "Mission to Mercury."

During the Arden run of Georgia McBride, Martha will have to cut back on her tour dates, but meanwhile, the actor is putting together Martha Graham Cracker's latest cabaret show to premiere at FringeArts Theater in December.

Van Reigersberg doesn't limit Martha musically, she has her own blues-rock band, has sung in front of full choirs and even performed a baroque arrangement of the Beatles hit "Dear Prudence" accompanied by a string quartet from the Philadelphia Orchestra. "We'll be upping the ante for the next show, but I don't really know what it will be yet," Dito said. Stay tuned.

"The Legend of Georgia McBride runs Oct 13 - Nov 27 at the Arden Theatre, 40 N.2nd St. Philadelphia, visit www.ardentheatre.org or call 216-922-1122 for information


Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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