Matthew McGee didn’t set out to be the Tampa Bay area’s most popular drag performer.
When he entered Georgia’s Valdosta State University in 1994, he wanted to be “a character actor like Christopher Lloyd,” McGee said. McGee’s appreciation of an entertainer known as “The Brazilian Bombshell” started him down the path to sequins and stiletto heels.
VSU’s dance program was staging a salute to Hollywood. The presentation included a bit with Carmen Miranda but as McGee said “I just don’t think many of the people knew who Carmen Miranda was and I did, this weird kid who loved those old movies.”
McGee could do “the whole Carmen Miranda thing” so it was simply a case of adding a skirt and a fruit-topped headpiece. “I had never done drag before. It never crossed my mind,” said McGee. When he did his bit as Miranda, though, “the crowd ate it up. I wondered if I should make this part of my bag of tricks.”
McGee will don women’s clothing again when he stars in Nunsense: A-Men, Dan Goggin’s reworking of his initial Nunsense play for an all-male cast. McGee, though, doesn’t consider Nunsense: A-Men a drag show.
“What’s great about Nunsense is that it’s not really drag,” McGee said. “Some people may think of it like a drag show, but we really do play these delightful sisters. We pay homage to them and I think we do play these characters with a lot of warmth and a lot of humor. So it’s a lot of fun.”
Drag was an important addition to McGee’s “bag of tricks,” but it’s hardly the only one. Plenty of the roles he takes don’t require wigs and stockings. He played the protagonist’s uncle during the first season of Amazon Prime series Life’s Rewards. He’s appeared in several independent movies such as Small Group and Waiting on Mary. And, in or out of drag, he’s trod the boards of most of the area’s stages. Except the Jaeb’s.
McGee is delighted that Nunsense: A-Men will take “performing at the Jaeb” off his bucket list.
McGee saw Shear Madness at the Jaeb not long after he relocated here in 2000.
“I said ‘Oh my god, what I wouldn’t give to do that. I want to perform at the Jaeb!’” McGee recalled. “This is a thrill because this is something on my little list of things that I just had to do.”
McGee, who also is a cast member at Disney World and community outreach director at St. Petersburg’s freeFall Theatre, is grateful for his success as a drag performer, even if he more or less stumbled into it. Drag proved its worth to McGee during the pandemic.
“So many people came out of the woodwork and wanted me to host their online event, their Zoom galas or online conventions, streamed events,” McGee said, “so I did stay busy during that time.
“I basically made a studio in my office here at my house,” McGee said. “I put up a big sparkly curtain and I had all my drag stuff and I would broadcast and host all these events.”
Doing drag from his own home had its advantages for McGee.
“What I loved about it was, for the first time in drag, I didn’t have to worry about anything from the waist down,” he said with a laugh. “I’d just put something sparkly on over the top of me and a wig and everything else was shorts and crocs. That was nice.
“I remember when I finally did another drag gig I was like ‘Oh my god, the rest of this stuff hurts, the heels and the tights, and all this nonsense.’” McGee said.
He’s thankful for, if still a little bemused about, his popularity as a drag performer.
“I never expected people would enjoy it as much as they did and as much as they still do,” McGee said. “It surprises me.”