Georgie: My Adventures With George Rose
Ed Dixon recounts the life of the two-time Tony-winning character actor whose death shocked Broadway.
"Do you like coffee-colored boys?"
This is a question that would come to haunt the estimable Broadway character actor Ed Dixon, posed to him by an equally venerable man of the theater, George Rose.
Rose's name has been lost to history at this point — his heyday was the 1960s, '70s, and '80s — but theater people in the know still regard it with esteem. After all, Rose's list of credits was prodigious. He won Tonys for his performances as the Chairman in The Mystery of Edwin Drood and as Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady, and he memorably delivered the Major-General's song in The Pirates of Penzance opposite Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt. Then, in 1988, he was brutally murdered at the age of 68.
How could someone so talented meet such a tragic end and have such a sordid secret life that led to it? In his fascinating new solo show, Georgie: My Adventures With George Rose, Dixon explores the many facets of this British stage animal, whom he proudly called friend, and doesn't leave anything out, hitting on both the delightful and depressing facts about his life.
The pair met while working on a touring production of the operetta The Student Prince. Dixon eagerly watched from the sidelines, drinking in as much as he could, as Rose brought down the house night after night, playing the comic relief role of Lutz. Rose liked to live a little dangerously — he traveled from tour stop to tour stop in a Winnebago that housed his prized pet, a lynx. Eventually he and Dixon became more than just professional colleagues, with a friendship that spanned decades.
Georgie is less a traditional play than a juicy evening of theater stories, but Dixon brings his pal to life with such vividness that it's almost as if Rose is actually onstage next to him. Dixon convincingly channels the great performer with impressions that anyone who was ever lucky enough to see Rose live (or watched clips of on YouTube) would approve of. Dixon also delights in recounting Rose's famous tales of working with greats like John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, and Laurence Olivier, delivering them with no unsparing detail left out.
Where Dixon wrestles with demons is in revealing the darker side of Rose's life. Dixon always had a suspicion that Rose harbored a secret (the question about "coffee-colored boys" was always in the back of his brain, especially after seeing Rose play a pedophile in Simon Grey's Wise Child), but at the time Dixon never suspected that "boys" actually meant boys.
This realization, and Rose's own demise (a murder staged to look like a suicide, by the family of a teenager Rose "adopted,") serves as the climax of the piece, and it's where Dixon's dramatic chops really come into their own. It's clear that he is still haunted by Rose's double life, one that landed Rose in an unmarked grave in the Dominican Republic.
As the story progresses, the jovial, sunny performance he delivers begins to morph into a rigid and deeply sad one by the end. Director Eric Schaeffer guides this multifaceted performance into a beautifully appropriate balance of lightness and darkness. Chris Lee's lighting underscores the same points, but is admittedly a little heavy-handed.
Yet even as such a horrible story comes to life before our eyes, it's clear that no matter what, Dixon still respects his late mentor, even if his feelings now are weightier and more complicated than they were when the two first met. Georgie is a tribute to one of Broadway's greats, while reminding us that everyone we see onstage has a story all their own.