Review: Make Me Gorgeous

One-person shows are the thing off-Broadway right now, and this one is the crème de la crème. From the unexpected opening to the breath-of-fresh-air ending, Make Me Gorgeous is a non-stop ride through the sometimes crazy life and times of Kenneth/Kate Marlowe, a trailblazing LGTBQ+ icon few unfortunately know about.

Photo Credit: Gay City News

The heart of this production is Wade McCollum’s portrayal of Kenneth “Mr. Madam” Marlowe, a role he inhabits with astounding authenticity and emotional depth. McCollum’s performance is not just an act; it’s a transformation, immersing the audience into the life of Marlowe with mind-blowing realness. His ability to navigate the complexities of Marlowe’s life—from the highs of success to the depths of personal struggle—is a masterclass in acting. His effortless shifting from character to character, often in the same breath, is mesmerizing.

The narrative, adapted from Donnie’s book, US, is both a historical journey and a personal exploration. It showcases the societal challenges and personal triumphs of Marlowe, a pioneering figure in LGBTQ+ history. The play’s pacing is superb, with each scene seamlessly flowing into the next, creating a vibrant tapestry of Marlowe’s life. The script is witty, heart-wrenching, and thought-provoking, offering a nuanced perspective on Marlowe’s experiences. A friend of mine described McCollum as embodying “gay and straight and woman and man and tough and weak and seductive and more.”

Gay City News called Make Me Gorgeous “one of the best plays of the season,” for good reason. The set extends into the audience as Playhouse 46’s theater-in-the-round is converted into a nightclub setting the likes of which you might have seen Kenneth perform in their heyday. It’s, simply, gorgeous.

The production design complements McCollum’s performance beautifully. The scenic design by Walt Spangler creates an immersive environment, while Jamie Roderick’s lighting and Jeffrey Hinshaw’s costumes add layers of authenticity and flair. These elements, combined with McCollum’s performance, create a vivid portrayal of Marlowe’s world.

Mom, Wade McCollum and myself

In conclusion, Make Me Gorgeous! is a triumph in storytelling and acting. McCollum’s embodiment of Marlowe is nothing short of extraordinary, making this show a must-see. The play not only entertains but also educates and inspires, making it a significant contribution to the theater world.

My mom and Donnie

I saw the show with my mom, and it was her second show in New York City. My mom, who was born and raised in a rural, conservative county in Ohio just like me, really connected with the story right away. It moved her in a way I’ve never seen before in theater. During her visit, while I was working, she ended up seeing the show four times. She came each time I had a shift and enjoyed it more with every viewing. She, just like me, shed tears each time she saw it (and I’ve seen it many more times). She quickly became friends with the playwright, Donnie, and they spent time talking in the green room before shows. It was great to see her experience the show so intimately, a way that few people do. By the way, Donnie is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, no joke.

The show is scheduled to run through December 31. Run, don’t walk. It’s theater that must exist and must be seen.

Disclaimer: I am on staff at this show’s venue, Playhouse 46. My review is not affected by this association however, because the tears are real.