Matthew McGee recalls a few of his favorite roles:
Rocky Horror’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter at American Stage in the Park (2012) - “I thought, oh my God, people love this! I had never felt that way before. They just went crazy. I felt accepted for the first time in a long time. I remember thinking, maybe I’m in the right place after all.”
Ms. Shin, the Mayor’s wife in Asolo Rep’s production of The Music Man - “That show was directed by Jeff Calhoun, director of Newsies on Broadway and it featured other Broadway performers, too. It was a great opportunity to give a performance with real substance, even in drag.
Edna Turnblad in Hairspray (2017) – “Getting to play a Harvey Firestein role AND getting applause just for coming on stage? Come on. Some performers never get to experience that, and I’ll never forget it or take it for granted.”
The Real McGee
Actor Matt McGee has become a beloved stage performer in the Tampa bay area. who is that man of many faces?
By Cindy Stovall
No one is happier to be on the tail end of a global pandemic than Matthew McGee – one of, if not the most recognizable and best loved performers in the Tampa Bay area.
“It feels good to be back,” says McGee, director of community outreach at freeFall Theatre, his fulltime day job. “But it is still a challenge getting audiences back and some smaller theaters are still struggling. At freeFall, we’re moving forward with a season of uplifting shows that will hopefully bring smiles.”
McGee just closed his one man show, I Love to Eat, portraying famed chef James Beard, and was in rehearsal to play Poirot in a Stageworks production of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express at the time of this interview. “To be honest, despite the financial challenges of the pandemic, I did welcome the break. I needed it,” he confessed.
Clearly, recess is over.
McGee is one of the busiest and most sought-after performers in our area, and with that comes recognition. This past year has seen McGee win a Theater Tampa Bay Award for best supporting actor for a rare semi-dramatic role in Natalie Symon’s, The People Downstairs at American Stage. He was also selected “Performing Arts Honoree” by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance for the recently held 2022 MUSE Awards.
As stage curtains go up again, and acclaim is freshly savored, it seems a good time to shine the metaphorical spotlight on the one and only Matthew McGee – not just the performer, but the human.
It’s hard to believe that a performer with such a prolific career and sunny disposition ever struggled to find success – professionally or personally. But it’s important if you want to know Matt McGee.
McGee grew up in Georgia. He remembers that people weren’t always kind to a child that was different. “My family certainly loved me, but they didn’t understand me,” he recalls, “and, of course, I lived in constant fear of being bullied or hurt. It kept me from doing a lot of normal kid things.”
It was the theater community that saw him through those fragile school years. “I knew that’s where I belonged, and many of those friends are still in my life.”
McGee explains. “When I went from Georgia to NYC in 2000, trying to make it in theater, they didn’t know quite what to do with me,” he says. “I was 28 and losing my hair! I did some drag and knew that it would figure prominently in my career, but I worried about getting pigeonholed. I wanted to be a serious actor, too. I could hear the voices of some of my teachers saying, ‘You can’t be exactly who you are and get cast.’
“I had to find my way.”
“It helped to be inspired by performers like Charles Busch - an actor who played female roles, but who also wrote plays and screenplays that created those roles. Harvey Firestein is another role model. To me, he’s had a sort of perfect career, getting to play male roles on film and female roles on stage. I really looked up to them.”
A gig at Disney World brought McGee to Florida from New York City after 9/11. Then, several years at a Florida dinner theater allowed him to hone his craft and make some consequential contacts. One of those contacts cast McGee in The Big Bang, the show that brought him to the Tampa Bay area – to stay. “You might say my career really began a little later in life.”
Surprisingly, when asked when he finally felt safe from potential ridicule, McGee answered, “believe it or not, it wasn’t until I did Mame at the age of 40. It called upon everything in me that I thought was weird – and made it all OK. It validated my vision of who I wanted to be as an actor at a time when I was considering giving up drag. He may not have known it, but Eric Davis gave me a true gift with that role.”
Becoming Matthew McGee
Matt McGee embraces his maturity and its impact on his career. “I love it,” he smiles. “I feel as if I’ve been growing into many roles that are right for me and that I could never book before. As a favorite professor told me, ‘Your best time will come in your 40s.’ He wasn’t wrong.”
Like Mame, other roles have allowed Matt McGee to fully realize his acting manifest destiny. They are roles that incorporate his love of drag, pop culture, camp, and as he calls them, the grande dames of Hollywood.
Of course, playing roles like Poirot, Beard and Todd in The People Downstairs, “give the career I’ve tried to build lovely balance. I’m an actor. There are so many roles that I love.”
A busy life in theater can mean a lonely life at home. Of course, McGee has had faithful Westie companion and star in his own right, Brian, by his side for 13 years, but he’s probably not always the best conversationalist.
They always say that love enters your life when you least expect it. For Matt McGee and George Ebanks, that was precisely how it happened.
“I met George online, and our first date was dinner at his home. At that time, George had a 14-year-old lab named Scout. The way he loved and cared for that dog really touched me. Then, as I looked around, I saw his collection of books – Shakespeare and other subjects that interested me. That, and the fact George is an oncology nurse at Moffitt Cancer Center — I knew he was a catch and that I’d better make this work.”
That was six years ago. “George has brought stability and a lovely emotional balance to my life. I love making a home for us, and he loves me even if I’m not on stage or winning an award. I know, if I never booked another show, I’d be just fine.”
Hopefully, we won’t have to worry about that for quite some time.