When you mix the legendary qualities of Liza Minnelli, the southern, folksy charm of Paula Deen and the insanity of Honey Boo Boo Child, you get Matthew McGee. At least, that’s what he believes.
The popular Tampa Bay actor, comedian and performer shares the roots of his comic genius in his one-man show, hysterically titled, Matthew With a Z, at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater on March 2.
“I found when I was writing that I could weave a lot of my personal stories with stories about Liza,” McGee says. “I’ve met her before and I’ve seen her live. I’ve even chatted with her backstage. There seems to be this funny connection even though we are obviously worlds apart.”
McGee says that his childhood was much like any other young boy’s growing up in rural Georgia. His veterinarian father and beauty queen mother are also credited for his performances, he says.
“In the show I talk about how all kids get in trouble for playing their music too loud,” he laughs. “For me, my dad comes to the door and yells, ‘Turn off those God damn Liza Minnelli albums!’ He laughs at that to this day. Good friends would always tell me their parents would tell them to turn off that ‘rock-n-roll crap.’ My sin was Liza at Carnegie Hall.”
McGee used his Baptist upbringing and his reputation as “the kid who loved Liza Minnelli” to explore music and performance. He discovered fairy tales and 40s women’s pictures early in his youth and actually taught himself the meaning of “camp performance.”
It’s not like he had a lot of opportunities for others to teach him the art of “camp” in his home town.
“Every Saturday the thing to do in my town was to go hunting,” McGee says. “You can imagine me going out there. It’s hysterical! They were very puzzled by me but it was never a negative thing. They just didn’t know what I would end up doing. ”
Last spring, McGee played Dr. Frank N Furter in American Stage’s Rocky Horror Show. He received critical acclaim for his portrayal of the iconic character, but he’s most proud of his mother’s response.
“It’s so funny to have your mom proud that you played a transvestite and a mad scientist,” he says.
Not his first time
Obviously, McGee is no stranger to the theater. He has played roles in theaters on both sides of the bay and has done voiceovers and commercials. Last summer he brought audiences to their knees with his portrayal as “The Wicked Witch” in A Wizard of Oz, benefitting the Suncoast AIDS Theater.
He’s even presented his one-man show before at freeFall Theatre in St. Petersburg. The “favor” he did for the company made him research comedy and his own history.
“I prefer plays and musicals where I play characters,” McGee admits. “So I didn’t know what to think about freeFall’s request. I popped in my Elaine Stritch at Liberty DVD and watched her tell personal stories. While I’m not comparing myself to her, I thought of several funny stories that I’ve experienced in my life.”
McGee mixes music into his show to accompany his stories. A band, led by Sam Collins, follow him in his renditions of Liza classics and some more modern songs.
Of course, McGee’s versions are unlike any his audience has heard before. There are more than a dozen songs in the 90-minute show, including some big showstoppers, according to McGee.
“I learned a lot from watching Stritch and, of course, Liza,” McGee says. “When Liza’s up on stage it’s not one moment. She fills the audience with an experience. I want to do that.”
This presentation of Matthew With A Z is a little different than the one he created for freeFall, McGee says. He brought in a new arranger and he rewrote a majority of the material. So for those who saw his one-man show before, his updated version will be a new experience.
“Some things really worked and I expanded on those,” he says. “There are new stories, new jokes and, of course, plenty of new songs.”
One segment of his show, McGee says, focuses on songs that Minnelli should have recorded. Without revealing too much, he suggests imagining the great diva herself singing a Justin Bieber hit.
“It’s insane, imagining Liza selling some of these hitsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢”šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Âit’s hilarious,” McGee says. “I also sing songs that I just love and I give the crowd some La Cage Aux Folles, of course.”
Stoic on stage
With so many years of experience as a performer, McGee rarely gets nervous before a performance. He admits, however, that a one-man show is much different than a production with a full cast.
“A one-man show brings out anything that can happen,” he says. “There’s a sense of being nervous that everyone is coming out just to see you. But I give them the show in that self-depricating way and I sweat it out up there.”
While the experience is nerve-wracking, McGee says that friends who have seen his one-man show and stand-up in the past say he looks free and relaxed.
“Obviously they didn’t know what was going on in my head,” he laughs. “There is no time to go off stage and let someone else do the heavy lifting. You have to keep people entertained for 90 minutes. But I enjoy that.”
And making the audience enjoy 90 minutes of him is a challenge to which McGee looks forward.
“I think people will see the show, nod at the recognition of those things we all experienced when we were younger, and laugh,” he says. “The road to where I am today wasn’t really that rough, but it was still pretty funny. There are many hilariously socially unacceptable things that I did in that southern town, and I’m ready to share those with the audience.”
While Matthew With A Z is a one-night only performance for the Capitol Theater, it likely won’t be the last time McGee will perform his original material. In fact, he’s already plotting how he will revamp his newest incarnation of the show for the third go-around sometime in the future.
“My big dream is to do this again and get bigger and bigger each time with a huge Bollywood finale,” McGee laughs. “I want to keep building it so I can do the finale I want because that would be a scream.”
But for now, audiences will hear his take on classic songs, his impersonations and stories of the people who helped shape McGee into the person he is today.
“I’ve always been around amazing people,” he says. “To me there’s nothing funnier than my grandfather calling gays ‘homosectionals’ like we’re part of a sofa.”
And it’s relatable gems like that which has McGee excited about his latest project.
“I will just have to make sure I have plenty of water nearby,” he says. “I don’t want to be like Marco Rubio and have to reach over to far for it. If I can swing that I’ll be okay.”
WHAT: Matthew With A Z
WHO: Matthew McGee
WHEN: Saturday, March 2
WHERE: Capitol Theatre, Clearwater