Anyone in the USA who spent anytime in front of a television set in the late 1980s and early 1990s will certainly have at least a casual understanding of the premise of “The Golden Girls,” the cheeky and popular female-led NBC TV sitcom which ran for seven primetime seasons starting in the fall of 1985.
It is full of fairly ridiculous adventures of a quartet of older, saucy and single white women — three of whom are widowed, plus one who’s divorced — who wind up sharing a house in Miami. Over the course of its immensely successful run, the show twice took home the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series and won three Golden Globes for Best Musical or Comedy Television Series. Each of the main actresses (Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Betty White and Estelle Getty) received their own Emmys, as well, which stands as quite a rare accomplishment.
The show’s episode count hit 180 before its cancellation, ensuring that it would live on for decades in syndication. In fact, it has become something of a corny staple on cable and streaming platforms, and enjoys a fervent cult following that cuts across lines of age, gender and sexual orientation.
Ron Megee is one such follower of the "Golden Girls" gospel. The founder of Kansas City, Missouri’s edgy and risqué Late Night Theatre Co. (which he founded in 1997), Megee and his upstart troupe, “a ragtag band of misfits, gypsies, dandies, queens, kings and art kids,” have long specialized in creating and staging their own snarky bizarro-world updates and pastiches of well-known mainstream pop-culture film and TV touchstones. In the past, they’ve served up such high-concept/low-brow productions as “CluelessNess,” “The Dykes of Hazzard,” “Remington Steele Magnolias,” and “Black Bewitched.”
Now, he and several key members of the Late Night Theatre are hitting the road in a big way to bring one of their most well-received original productions to the historic Tybee Post Theater.
“Golden Girls Gone Wild” is an unauthorized, tongue-firmly-in-cheek, two-hour reimagining of four beloved episodes of that classic sitcom, with one key modification: playing to the LNT’s pre-existing modus operandi, as well as to this particular series’ longstanding gay fan base, all of the female characters are played by male actors and all of the male roles are played by a woman.
It’s a drag, for sure.
“The LGBTQI community has always loved this show,” enthused Megee from near Nashville as he headed to our area in a truck packed with furniture, props and vintage costumes. “The show is honest about true friendships and has a sexy, naughty side, which plays well for relatability and camp.”
And camp is what the Late Night Theatre is all about.
“In the theater community of Kansas City, we are the wild, bad seed, evil child of the scene,” explained Megee, with a devilish zeal. “For 22 years we have always delved into the world of ‘Camp Parody.’” Megee said that the reinterpretation of TV shows and movies has long been a source of intrigue for himself and his compatriots. “Something about the kitsch value of looking at pop culture always makes us happy,” he continued. “And really, TV gives us the best moments to parody. Also, we are men playing women, and women playing men. That can raise the bar. Also, if we, as a troop, take on an iconic show, the crossover is miraculous.
“In crafting a show from iconic kitsch, we like to mix songs and other shows the actors involved — who are the true stars of the original series or movie — have been in, to tell a more in-depth story. For example, Bea Arthur was also in (the earlier TV series) “Maude,” so we might make a reference to that.”
As in the troupe’s past productions of this sort, rather than simply performing the actual scripts from the TV series as originally written, they have chosen to write their own satirical tributes to those episodes, which requires no licensing or official imprimatur from the show’s creators. In other words, they can use “other words,” and take this spoof in any direction they wish.
“Fair use is a doctrine in the law of the United States that permits limited use of copyrighted material without having to first acquire permission from the copyright holder,” explained Megee. Remember (the rap group) 2 Live Crew? They helped establish this law. We do pure ‘parody camp.’ It’s our interpretation of the show, an inspiring rendition with songs and drag, but done in a similar style.”
The writer-director, who also stars in the production as the character of Dorothy (Bea Arthur), said the response to previous productions of this show has been tremendous. “The audiences go crazy for this tribute,” he said, enthusiastically. “They sing along, play with us and enjoy a leisure life of retirement and cheesecake. It is two hours of pure escapism, laughter, and a return to simple times.”
Megee said the Late Night Theatre has never taken one of their shows on the road in quite this manner before. They are not actually on tour, but rather his own familiarity with Savannah and Tybee Island led directly to this one-off road trip for the troupe.
“Several of our cast members have visited Savannah and Tybee many times,” said the actor. “My mom and I spend New Years on that magic island, and my husband attended and graduated from SCAD. We love Tybee and are super pumped to be able to bring this show to the best island on the East Coast!”
The complete show, which runs close to two hours, will be performed six times at the Post Theater over two weekends, including Sunday matinees. Based on the original TV series’ broad appeal, all involved expect a very inclusive range of attendees to turn out for this special run of performances.
“In Kansas City, we have one of the most diverse audiences in the region,” offered Megee. “From housewives to leather men. LGBTQI to construction workers, Generation Z to Baby Boomers… We strive to make a safe, fun filled environment for all.” To hear him tell it, the loopy, uplifting, inclusive humor that “The Golden Girls” was known for is perhaps more important than ever before. “Right now, in this fractured world, everyone just needs escape… and a chance to laugh,” Megee said.
As our conversation comes to a close, I ask the director and performer one final question: As they’re not actually on tour, how did this particular far-off engagement come about?
“Well,” replied Megee, “we had cocktails with Melissa Turner, the executive director of the Tybee Post Theater, and she booked us after a few drinks. We love her. And she is fun to drink with!”