Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose is a memory piece that vividly recounts their intersecting lives in show business over nearly 20 years.
Mr. Rose’s illustrious Broadway career that included winning two Tony Awards for Best Actor in a Musical, his fondness for exotic animals, open homosexuality and brutal murder are recounted through riveting details.
With his resonant voice and animated presence, Mr. Dixon vibrantly holds forth with a series of shrewdly connected, comical and poignant behind-the-scenes theatrical anecdotes. Dixon’s gallery of wonderful, brief celebrity impersonations include Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Gladys Cooper, Noël Coward, Richard Burton and Katharine Hepburn.
Dixon also crucially channels the essence of Rose with his accurate impression of him and by performing snippets of Rose’s signature roles including Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady.
What truly distinguishes the show is Dixon’s fearless psychological focus on Rose and himself. The predominant theme is of hero worship and its bruising disappointments. It also attempts to explore the issue of the often-dark contrast between the on-stage and off-stage lives of great entertainers. In examining their involvement, Dixon doesn’t spare Rose or himself from honest scrutiny.
Eric Schaeffer’s eerie scenic design has the small stage resembling the backstage of a theater. Ropes on pulleys, ghost lights, a stack of vintage books, and a worn wing chair are on view. The mature Dixon, wearing gray trousers and a rolled up black shirt enters, and forcefully begins his chronicle.
In 1971, when in his early 20’s, Dixon is cast in a touring production of The Student Prince. Also in the company is the 51 year-old Rose. Dixon is intrigued by Rose’s colossal talent and colorful personality, and their relationship begins. The tour ends, but soon after they’re reunited during a chance meeting in The West Village. They go to Rose’s nearby modest apartment for tea. Two snarling, large black dogs and a pair of mountain lions also inhabit the residence.
In the 1980’s, their relationship intensifies when Dixon has become a noted vocal coach. Rose studies with him to prepare for a part in a new Broadway musical.
In that era, Rose is flush with money from recreating his landmark stage role as the Major-General in the film version of the celebrated Broadway revival of The Pirates of Penzance. He buys a more expansive New York City apartment, as well as a large estate in the rural Dominican Republic.
It is there in 1988, while on hiatus from the touring company of the musical adaption of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, in which Rose had another Broadway success, that he is violently murdered at the age of 68. The culprits were an underage Dominican youth Rose was involved with and the boy’s relatives.
With Graham Greene-style atmospheric description, Dixon retells this shocking episode that occurred shortly after he visited for a vacation. He cut the trip short after being appalled by Rose’s personal proclivities and the prevalent danger in the area.
The combination of this event, the lurid aftermath and the AIDS crisis, led the gay Dixon to a downward spiral of drugs and alcohol that he eventually recovered from. Among his Broadway credits are roles in the 1971 revival of No, No, Nanette, the original productions of Les Misérables, and Mary Poppins.
In addition to designing the set, Mr. Schaeffer also directed the show. Though there is just one actor in a confined space, Schaeffer’s inspired staging includes a number of arresting tableaux, bursts of action and Dixon’s perfectly modulated performance.
Chris Lee’s striking lighting design adds even more power to the presentation. Its perpetual fluctuations that complement the events of the narrative, and a periodically murky quality conveying the dimension of the past, are visual standouts.
Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose is theatrical storytelling at its highest level.
Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose (through April 15, 2017)
The Loft at The Davenport Theatre, 354 West 45th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.georgietheplay.com
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission