As freeFall Theatre was readying a production of the musical Cabaret to begin the 2012-2013 season, someone came up with the idea of doing “real” cabaret-type shows on the Kit Kat Club stage, on the main production’s off nights. A tandem series.
The field was wide open. Marketing director Matthew McGee and his friend Scott Daniel, a freeFall designer, enjoyed singing and joking around together. “At one point,” McGee recalls, “I said you know, I could do drag for it, and we could do a lounge act. It would be like Steve and Eydie. And Scott thought that was hilarious.
“Scott builds costumes and wigs, so we started cultivating what the look would be. And then one day he said ‘What if it’s a stage mother and her gay son? And they now work together in a nightclub act?’”
And so the Scott and Patti Show was born.
Scott and Patti: Get a Real Job is in production through Feb. 14, the third consecutive “drive-in” show put up in the freeFall parking lot.
“They honk their horns instead of applauding, which is kind of fun,” McGee laughs. “You know people are laughing – you can kind of hear it if they leave their window rolled down – but it’s so different for a show that’s really a lot about laughs.”
Although he was in an Asolo Rep holiday concert in Sarasota, this is McGee’s first time back on a St. Pete stage since last March.
Funny thing is, Scott and Patti was supposed to be just for that Cabaret tandem run. “We basically thought we would never do it again, and so the idea of the show was that it was their farewell show,” he explains. “That Scott had decided he wanted to be on cruise ships and not work with his mom any more. We did it for a couple of nights – and it was sold out every night. And people were going crazy. We thought ‘Really?’”
This led to command performances, everywhere from drag clubs and Pride events to concert venues and theater stages on both sides of the bay. Daniel and McGee once performed as Scott and Patti for 500 people at a Spring Hill retirement community. “There are some people that go into the show thinking it really is a mother and son,” McGee marvels.
He believes audiences are impressed with Scott and Patti because he and his onstage partner are actually good singers – it’s not just camp and cheese.
McGee calls himself a “clown in a gown,” because drag performance is a big part of (though not all, by a long shot) his resume. “I thought it was a really great opportunity to showcase Scott in a way,” he says. “I was playing a whole different character, and not even using my name … so Scott and Patti was a real great way for people to get to know him as a performer. I think it opened up a lot of doors for him, including you getting to see him hilariously playing Roger DeVries in (American Stage’s) The Producers.”
The pandemic put Scott and Patti on ice, although McGee and Daniel did a Facebook Live concert. FreeFall began the “drive-in” series in October with War of the Worlds (McGee appeared in creepy video segments), and followed that with A Christmas Carol in Concert (he narrated, also via video).
It was artistic director Eric Davis who suggested a Scott and Patti revival for the third production. His pitch: “What would Scott and Patti do if the pandemic stopped all their live shows? How would they make a living?”
And that, explains McGee, is “the joke of the show. We do everything from hosting a podcast to trying to have a YouTube series to selling real estate and selling Tupperware.”
Things have changed since the first parking lot production, back in October. Musical director Michael Raabe and a live band play the music for Scott and Patti; there are now interactive cameras that not only send a live feed from the stage to the giant TV screens (“like a concert”) but allow for playful interaction between Scott, Patti and the show’s multi-media elements.
Tailgating – or even getting out of your vehicle – is not permitted, due to the recent increase in Covid numbers.
Because the two performers are friends, in one another’s “bubble,” there are no plexiglass dividers on the stage this time around. “We stage ourselves pretty far apart for the show, farther than we normally would,” McGee says. “But there’s an intimacy and immediacy to it that I think is a lot of fun for people.”
It’s not exactly the way things are supposed to be, but hey, it sure beats the alternative. “I look at our program,” says McGee, “and there are costume designers who got paid to do this. There’s a four-piece band, we have technicians working – all working safely! – a set designer, lightning designer … a lot of people were put back to work with this show.
“It’s kind of nice to see all those people busy again, and they’re all real thankful. So the general energy of the show is really a positive one.”
McGee was hoping that 2020 would be the year he “came of age” as a character actor, and wouldn’t have to do so much drag work (it began as a one-off in a college show 25 years ago).
Today, he’s not complaining. Not at all.
“For me, it’s like a USO-type effort. Because I feel like we’re running into a time that’s sort of post-Depression, or post-World War II where people really need to be entertained. And drag, for me, does that very thing. It’s kind of like my uniform, so to speak.”