Did you know that if you light a big black candle on a cheesecake at the stroke of midnight, the souls of Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty, and Betty White will posses the nearest drag queens and a new episode of the “The Golden Girls” will unfold onstage? Yes, the Golden Girls have decided to visit the Screaming 20s (the 2000s version of the Roaring 20s), and their bawdy approach to modern chaos will remind the audience to “loosen up,” which coincidentally is Blanche’s nickname in certain parts of Miami.
…the cast, crew, and creative team…pay homage to the personalities and physical attributes of the original characters/actors while unleashing a newness and naughtiness—a welcomed style to the theater and drag.
Picture it…Florida 1985. A seven-year old DeSantis skips kittens on the swamps of Jacksonville and feeds the local alligators while “The Golden Girls” film their pilot in nearby Orlando. Dorothy (Bea Arthur), a cynical substitute teacher, moves into Blanche’s (Rue McClanahan) house along with her 80-year mother, Sophia (Estelle Getty), and St. Olaf transplant, Rose (Betty White). Each of the four Golden Girls come with their own personality quirks. Blanche’s little black book has turned into an exotic bibliotheca of men. Despite her age and forgetful nature, Sophia’s sharp tongue and auspicious interjections could shoot down any hot air balloon (another nickname for Blanche) alienating her current schemes. Poor Rose is clueless to culture outside of St. Olaf, but her kindness often shines through in the form of long-winded anecdotes from her past follies. Dorothy has small wins and big setbacks, which consequently births her sarcasm mostly due to the accident that is her nincompoop of an ex-husband, Stanley. The chemistry between these four characters led to seven seasons of laughs and tears, often pushing the envelope, and focusing entire episodes on topics such as HIV/AIDS, homophobia, body image, sexism, ageism, politics, racial tensions, and drugs just to name a few. “The Golden Girls” became a favorite sitcom of the gay community and episodes were often watched in the local gay bar. It only seems natural that the drag community embraced the personas and channeled their creativity into a new story to bridge the gap between the 1990s to the 2000s.
Writer Robert Leleux penned an unhinged interpretation of how the Golden Girls would approach the now. This allowed the cast, crew, and creative team to pay homage to the personalities and physicalities of the original characters/actors while unleashing a newness and naughtiness—a welcomed style to the theater and drag. The jokes will be shocking only because our whispered conversations, sordid text messages, and inner desires get channeled through aged voices that are expected to offer restraint and wisdom—and this dynamic is devilishly delicious.
The premise of this on-stage episode is ridiculous, but not that far of a stretch from the original source material. Sophia (Christopher Kamm) is under house arrest and will be going on trial for selling drugs to her fellow AARP members. Meanwhile, Blanche (Vince Kelley) and Rose (Adam Graber) have gone into business together to create the Jitterbug of dating apps for the elderly—CreakN, which has led to some financial success. The anchor of the cast, Ryan Bernier as Dorothy, effortlessly recreates Bea Arthur, a true highlight of the entire production. Dorothy is struggling with her mother’s potential imprisonment and her perpetual dating woes. Rose and Blanche’s obvious solution to Dorothy’s struggles is to create an exaggerated CreakN profile, which includes an entire sexy, albeit geriatric, photoshoot. Blanche’s desire to keep up with the youth was evident in her dialogue, which Kelley delivered in a delightfully cringeworthy and iconic manner as in the original series. Kamm’s dedication to Sophia’s mannerisms and dialogue pacing was noticed by the audience, which led to many cheers and laughs. Graber presented us with a MasterClass in Betty White-isms, which was noticeable in the simplest of actions such as sitting down, turning heads, or crossing legs. It cannot be stressed enough how much Bernier is able to reincarnate Bea Arthur’s gravelly voice and droopy mannerisms, which almost feels like some sort of deep-fake magic on stage. Finally, Jason Bowen bumbles in as Stanley (Dorothy’s ex-husband), while also doing double duty as Dorothy’s new suave and sexy love interest, Burt Reynolds (not who you think).
The audience spends close to two hours in the theater with the Golden Girls and the plot thickens like a cheesecake laced with LSD, and yes, that is a plot point. The charm of this production comes from the soul of the original characters, while unleashing them into the minefield of the modern day. Blanche is a She-E-O while navigating her side hustle on OnlyGrans.com. Rose surprises the audience with her internet marketing skills she developed from her associate’s degree from St. Olaf Community College. Dorothy is enamored with new and exciting opportunities in the form of men and showbiz. Sophia’s entrepreneurial empire is expanding, but she’s more of a Sicilian El Chapo rather than a Sarah Blakely. At the end of the day, it’s all nonsense and everyone resolves it into some sense.
From a design standpoint, everything checks the golden boxes. The set is reminiscent of 1990s Miami with flamingo pink chairs, animal Jell-O molds on the kitchen wall, and era costumes that somehow have managed to become fashionable again with Gen Z. Most action happens between the kitchen and living room, which feels intuitive for fans of the show. During the opening of the show, scene transitions, and end of show, the audience is treated to intros and soundbites that make it feel like we’re watching an episode in front of a box tv in the late 80s or early 90s. The only thing missing was the commercial breaks, which the audience must have paid extra to skip.
If you’re looking to throw a party, invite everyone you know to see “The Golden Girls: The Laughs Continue”…and they’ll thank you for being a friend. And be a friend, a support, and an advocate to the drag performers. They deserve it.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes with a 20-minute intermission.
“The Golden Girls: The Laughs Continue” ran through February 26, 2023 at the Warner Theatre, 513 13th St NW, Washington, DC 20004. For information about the tour and tickets, click here. For more information and tickets on upcoming events at the Warner Theatre, click here.