Suncoast AIDS Theater Project spoofs a Bette Davis classic with ‘All About Steve’

By : Steve Blanchard
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St. Petersburg – Every summer the St. Petersburg community expects three things—rain every afternoon, a fantastic St. Pete Pride festival and Matthew McGee in a dress. This year, we get a special surprise—Scott Daniel will also be in a dress!

The Suncoast AIDS Theater Project, directed by Garry Breul, returns for the annual Prelude to Pride spooftacular—and this year’s victim is the Bette Davis classic All About Eve. Of course, in this incarnation, It’s All About Steve because Eve is actually Steve played by Daniel, a drag queen who is jealous of the success of his mentor, played by McGee.

“The story itself is as old as time,” McGee says. “There is always some young one trying to knock you off the top, and I think that’s what’s so fun about it. This is a very theatrical show and perfect for lampooning, just like the others.”

The others, of course, are last year’s successful Blown by the Wind and 2012’s A Wizard of Oz, in which McGee played Scarlett O’Hara and The Wicked Witch, respectively.

This time around he’s Margo Channing, which McGee says will be a mix between Bette Davis’ and Lauren Bacall’s versions.

Daniel, as the character’s assistant, is excited to put on a dress this year—although he did play one drag role in last year’s Gone With the Wind spoof. Daniel is also a costume designer, and has put McGee in drag many times, mostly in SATP productions and when the pair do their popular “Scott and Patti” shows.

“I always sew his costumes and they never fit because I’m significantly smaller,” Daniel laughs. “But I always picture what I would look like in his clothes, and that’s what Margo and Eve go through.”

Achieving that look isn’t easy, McGee admits, sharing stories of uncomfortable shoes, hot wigs and a made up look that’s very close to a clown’s look, he says.

“It’s difficult to take a 200 pound, 6’1″ middle-aged man and make him into this package of a woman,” McGee says. “It’s a lot of work, and like what Matthew Anderson does for RuPaul, Scott does for me.”

Like with previous Prelude to Pride extravaganzas, proceeds benefit local HIV/AIDS organizations. This year’s recipient is Metro Wellness and Community Centers. These benefits bring out local all stars and this production includes Eric Davis, Joey Panek, Sara DelBeato, Brian Shea, Joe Parra, Jonelle Meyer, Drew DeCaro and Jerid Fox.

And, once again, the production is adapted by T. Scott Wooten with a musical score by Michael Rabbe.

“The joy of this is, Garry will tell us to not look at our scripts too much because he doesn’t want us too familiar with the show,” McGee says. “When Garry and I first got together on these, that’s when the comedy started. He knew I’d do it and he knew I’d mess up. It’s not hard to mess up, especially in drag. It’s a sensory experience that dulls down your natural senses. I can be comfortable walking around. But put on heels, get cinched in, get those huge lashes on that obliterate your vision and wearing a hot wig, you’re suddenly a fantasy creature and you’re going to mess up.

And that’s hilarious, as Daniel attests.

“Essentially we’re a 90-minute outtake,” Daniel laughs.

The success of recent SATP shows has boosted interest in the productions and brought a new level of excitement to Prelude to Pride events. And all of the actors and musicians involved donate their time to the worthy cause because of two reasons: they believe in the cause, and no one can say no to Breul, McGee says.

“Garry brought me more onto the scene than anybody,” McGee says. “He’s like John Waters and I’m like Divine. He can throw me out there in just about anything outrageous and I’ll do it. It’s not just for the cause and awareness and fundraising. But it’s for Garry. He gave me my firs tbig gig in that way that brought me into people’s consciousness. He’s one of the biggest reasons for me being here.”

Daniel also credits Breul for his success as an actor, designer and performer.

“This is a small theater community and it’s hard to get into,” Daniel says. “If it wasn’t for Garry and A Wizard of Oz, I probably wouldn’t be part of the scene now. I built Matthew’s costume and a few others that opened doors for me in other theaters. I thank Garry for bringing me here.”

Recently, Breul shared that he was having medical issues, which required some hospital stays and chemotherapy. The theatrical community rallied around him and helped raise nearly $1,000 with a one-night benefit in Sarasota earlier this month. The reluctant Breul finally accepted the generosity, but continued to work on All About Steve.

“Garry says he loves theater people and nothing shows how they work better than All About Eve,” McGee says. “This is an homage to theaters and theatricality. It’s a great piece that Garry can relate to at this moment.”

Neither McGee or Daniel consider themselves drag queens or female impersonators, for that matter. But they are actors and entertainers, and going for the laugh is what’s important, especially in a show like this.

“This is exciting for me,” Daniel says. “Because after building all of Matthew’s drag looks and focusing on the character of Patti, this show gives me a chance to be more whimsical. It brings Matthew to a new place and me too. He’s my Carol Burnett and I’m his Bob Mackey.”

But even with all of the laughter and outrageous mistakes (the actors don’t rehearse and will all be holding the scripts as they perform) the message of HIV/AIDS and remembering those we lost to the disease remains the focus. Each year, Breul makes sure panels from the AIDS Quilt are hung on the set.

“It’s a nice reminder,” McGee says of the quilts. “Garry’s message is so strong. He knows exactly what he wants to say and exactly what he wants to do and how it should be done.”

And both say they will continue to support Breul’s vision for as long as he will have them. McGee already has an idea for 2015.

“I really want to do Maleficent next year,” McGee says, referring to the Disney villain currently played by Angelina Jolie in theaters. “I want Scott to be sleeping beauty. I want a wacky version of that.”

The idea surprised Daniel.

“This article will be the first time (SATP writer) T. Scott Wooten hears about that,” he laughs.

More info:
WHAT: All About Steve
WHERE: American Stage, St. Petersburg
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. June 23 and June 29
TICKETS: AmericanStage.org

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