Divine Grace channels comedic icon Bea Arthur in two upcoming stage shows

By : Jeremy Williams
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Bea Arthur is a comedy legend. She was a fixture on Broadway stages and television screens throughout the back half of the 20th Century, but she is probably best known as the witty, sarcastic Dorothy Zbornak in the groundbreaking 80s sitcom “The Golden Girls.”

That is where Central Florida drag performer and actor Divine Grace delved into the mind of Arthur.

“Back when I was a kid we had three channels — NBC, ABC, CBS — then occasionally if the weather was right we’d get PBS,” Grace recalls. “On Saturday nights we always had fast food, it was always the only night we had fast food, and me and my family would park down in front of the TV for ‘The Golden Girls.’”

“The Golden Girls” starred Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty as Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Dorothy’s mother Sophia, four older women living together in Miami and navigating life, love and friendship in their golden years. The series ran on NBC from 1985 to 1992 and earned each of the actresses an Emmy Award for their performance.

Since the show’s end, it has continued on in syndication and has become an even bigger hit than its original run, particularly within the LGBTQ community.

Earlier this year, fellow Central Florida drag performers Ginger Minj and Gidget Galore came together to create a tribute show to “The Golden Girls.” Titled “The Golden Gals Live!,” it recreated two classic episodes of the original series that feature LGBTQ storylines.

Minj took on the role of Blanche and Galore took on Rose. The duo brought performer MrMs Adrien on as Sophia with only one person in mind to play Dorothy.

“I was so honored to be asked,” says Grace. “During the first read through, Adrien turned around to me and said, ‘Holy shit, how long have you been rehearsing this?’ And I said ‘Every Saturday night since 1985.’”

“The Golden Gals Live!” was an instant hit when it played in Feb. 2019 at the Parliament House’s Footlight Theatre.

“I was not prepared when we performed ‘Golden Gals’ to see how many straight people were in the audience, like Parliament House was flooded,” Grace says.” Everyone singing along with the theme song, it was perfect. It’s maybe the happiest theatrical experience I’ve ever had in my career.”

So perfect in fact that the girls all got back together for a second run in June during Red Shirt Pride Days.

“A friend of mine, after he saw ‘The Golden Gals,’ said ‘so much of you on stage doesn’t even feel like you’re acting,’” Grace says. “I just never realized how much of Divine Grace was built around Bea Arthur, and I thought I don’t think I did either but it sure was.”

Grace’s ability to not just act as Arthur’s iconic character, but seemingly channel her has led to Grace reprising her Arthur impersonation for a pair of shows at the Parliament House’s Footlight Theatre this holiday season.

In December, she will reteam with the ‘Golden Gals’ cast for a holiday special, “The Golden Gals Christmas Musical.” But before that, Grace is resurrecting Arthur’s other iconic television role, the titular character of the 70s sitcom “Maude,” in November.

“There’s a certain social significance to [‘Maude’] that, under this administration, seems needed,” Grace says. “There’s a certain sort of rebellion that the character of Maude was so famous for that we need to see more of.”

Arthur first appeared as Maude in the sitcom “All In The Family” as the liberal feminist cousin to Edith Bunker, wife of conservative bigot Archie Bunker. The character of Maude was so popular that CBS gave her a show of her own. “Maude” ran from 1972-78 and tackled topics like race, politics and female reproductive health.

“I came out in 1992, and when I think about how much the gay world has changed since I came out of the closet, like huge, huge strides,” Grace says. “But you go back and re-watch ‘Maude’ and you realize there’s a lot of injustice and inequality that has not been addressed yet either. That show is still relevant.”

“Maude Redux!” will follow the same blueprint as “The Golden Gals Live!” and recreate two classic episodes of the original. Along with Grace, the show will feature Josh Siniscalco as Maude’s husband, Walter; Grace’s fellow “Golden Gals” co-star Doug Ba’aser as Republican neighbor, Arthur; and Tommy Wooten as Arthur’s wife, Vivian.

“[‘Maude Redux!] will be two episodes, hard script with improv,” Grace says. “With ‘Maude’ there’s no reason to change the script. [‘Maude’ creator] Norman Lear is a genius and knew how to make you laugh while you address the elephant in the room.”

While she can’t tell us which episodes “Maude Redux!” will tackle, Grace says that with this cast you can’t go wrong no matter which episodes they are doing.

“They are all geniuses. I feel like I’m the weakest link in this show,” Grace says. “I’m just going to give you the best Bea Arthur as Maude I can give you.”

After a Thanksgiving feast of “Maude,” Grace heads back to 1980s Miami with Minj, Galore, Adrien and Ba’aser for “The Golden Gals Christmas Musical,” which will stir up holiday joy with slight recreations of the only two Christmas-themed episodes “The Golden Girls” did.

“Ginger has managed to take out all of the garbage from both of the Christmas episodes, like there was a hostage situation in one of them, but that has been completely omitted,” Grace says. “It’s very light, a lot of fun and it’s been turned into a musical.”

“The Golden Gals Christmas Musical” will feature loose interpretations of the show’s holiday episodes with classic Christmas songs and choreography which Graces says will feature “every Broadway cliché in the book.”

“Maude Redux!” runs Nov. 22-23. Tickets are $20 for general admission, $35 for VIP. “The Golden Gals Christmas Musical” runs Dec. 19-23. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $50 for VIP. Both shows will play at the Parliament House’s Footlight Theatre in Orlando. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit ParliamentHouse.com.

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