curtain call

A Christmas miracle: ‘The Golden Girls’ return for a live holiday drag parody

The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – The Obligatory Holiday Special
Hell in a Handbag Productions’ world premiere of ‘The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – The Obligatory Holiday Special.’ Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios.

The Rundown:

The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes has progressed over several seasons from a local bar in Chicago to a national sensation. The brainchild of playwright David Cerda, also a founding member and current Artistic Director of LGBTQ company Hell in a Handbag Productions, these original “lost episode” drag parodies of the unforgettable NBC sitcom have been produced across the country and featured at this year’s GoldenCon: Thank You for Being a Fan, the very first convention for fans of The Golden Girls. The latest live parody takes the form of an elongated holiday special, with musical numbers, unexpected gifts, and a quest to save Shady Pines.

Related: 10 super gay theater performances you won’t won’t to miss this holiday season

No Tea, No Shade:

It’s a beautiful day in Miami when Nancy Drew (Danne W. Taylor, but played fabulously on opening night by understudy Robert-Eric West) stops by the Golden Girls’ home. The mystery book muse and best friend to Sophia (Ryan Oates) has a problem: her home, the Shady Pines community of which Sophia is the most infamous ex-resident, is on the verge of closing just before the holidays. Can Dorothy (Cerda), Blanche (Grant Drager), and Rose (Ed Jones) prevent Sophia’s friends from losing their community? There’s only one solution: a holiday party with guest of honor Councilman Dick Hardin (Michael S. Miller) and a few very special surprises!

The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – The Obligatory Holiday Special.
‘The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – The Obligatory Holiday Special.’ Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios.

Award-winning playwright and director Spenser Davis, who previously worked with Handbag on the Golden Girls Virtual “Lockdown!” Special is at the helm of this 90-minute production. Presented in the Hoover-Leppen Theatre of Chicago’s Center on Halsted, the latest installment is a long way from its Andersonville bar roots, with a larger stage to play on and a photo backdrop featuring a representation of the Girls’ signature lanai. Costume designer West and make-up maven Sydney Genco shine brightest production-wise, crafting exquisitely festive looks for Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, Sophia, and their friends, including Bea Arthur-esque sweaters and long skirts, shoulder pads galore and plenty of vivid eyeshadow and lipstick.

Related: ‘The Golden Girls’ may return in animated form — check out the pilot

This isn’t my first time at the Handbag Golden Girls rodeo, and as usual, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the OG Fab Four: a whimsical blend of 1980s and ‘90s nostalgia with modern-day camp. The pacing is a bit more plodding than previous shows, likely owing to the slightly different format of one long storyline instead of several shorter “episodes.” While the former is still fun, the latter works better in several aspects, including pacing, comic timing, and audience investment, recalling the half-hour sitcom format of the original.

The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – The Obligatory Holiday Special
David Cerda and Ryan Oates in ‘The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – The Obligatory Holiday Special.’ Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios.

Let’s Have a Moment:

During the Act II holiday party, the girls present a talent show — all the better to bowl over Councilman Hardin with flair that celebrates our elder community. Dorothy and Sophia duet on a rewritten and extremely snarky “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” while Blanche performs a semi-striptease that she considers seductive, which the councilman finds … concerning. Last but certainly not least, Rose emerges in her Herring Queen gown from St. Olaf and performs a duet with the coincidentally named Bob Hope (Jamie Smith), capping off the most memorable and hilarious section of the production.

Grant Drager Golden Girls
Grant Drager in ‘The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes – The Obligatory Holiday Special.’ Photo by Rick Aguilar Studios.

The Last Word:

Everyone loves a Golden Girl, and anyone who’s watched the seminal TV series knows that its sharp writing and iconic performances have stood the test of time. Once again, Cerda and Hell in a Handbag have a winner on their hands: a perfect holiday night out with families of birth or choice to thank them for being a friend.

The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes — The Obligatory Holiday Special plays through December 30.