Sure to be a blast: The Big Bang! explodes again at American Stage

Sure to be a blast: The Big Bang! explodes  again at American Stage

Matthew McGee and Christopher Swan both say they would dress up and put on shows for family members as children. The two actors believe it’s a natural way to express themselves and are now using that impromptu dress-up style in The Big Bang!, which runs at American Stage through Feb. 21.

“I don’t think it’s a gay thing or a straight thing to dress up and entertain when you’re a kid,” says Swan, who is straight. “Even dressing up as a woman isn’t a big deal. It’s about portraying the character.”

BigBang_191797718.jpgIn The Big Bang! Swan and McGee play two budding off-Broadway writers as they perform highlights of their impending extravaganza—an epic musical that spans the history of the world from the Big Bang to the present for potential backers, played by the audience. Their play is budgeted for $83.5 million with a cast of 318 performers, 6,428 costumes, and a running time of 12 hours.

“The play is almost like hanging out with your friends and acting out your favorite movies,” says McGee, who was in American Stage’s original production of the play in 2006. “We’re using parts of the set for our outfits and grabbing things off the walls for hats. It’s crazy and it’s a lot of fun.”

McGee, who is gay, says the play has a Carol Burnett Show feel to it because of the staging, outfits and audience interaction. He says the production plays especially well to gay audiences.

“Gay people are really smart,” he says. “There are a lot of pop culture references in this play and gay people tend to be on top of things like that. That’s not to say that our straight friends won’t enjoy this. It really encompasses everything.”

And when McGee says “everything,” he means it, according to director Steven Flaa.

“This is a funny show that literally covers everything from Adam and Eve to Pocahontas and Jesus,” Flaa says. “It’s done in such a way that it really feels improvised, even though there is a lot of rehearsal time needed for a production like this.”

In all, 18 songs, provided by musical director Todd Lindamood, are presented to the audience and each one is used to tell a historical tale. McGee and Swan use their comedic timing to make each one unique and more memorable.

“For example, I’ll play characters based on other characters,” McGee explains. “When I’m ‘Nefertiti’ I play her as Jennifer Holliday. ‘Josephine’ is a version of Cher and ‘Attila the Hun’ is a lot like Frank Sinatra.”

One of Swan’s favorite moments in the comedy is the duet he and McGee sing as the Virgin Mary and Gandhi’s mother.

“We sing about the difficulties of raising children,” Swan says. “It’s just so campy and fun. The audience will eat it up.”

It’s that campiness, McGee says, that has made The Big Bang! such a big hit with gay crowds.
Both McGee and Swan live in the Tampa Bay area and have appeared in numerous American Stage productions. This is the first time Swan has been affiliated with The Big Bang! but he has worked with McGee before. The two starred in Moonlight and Magnolias and Swan recently finished his one-man show This Wonderful Life.

“I’ve been the lead guy and I’ve been in serious plays, musicals and comedies,” Swan says. “This show is just great and I laughed hysterically when I saw it in 2006. It can be a bit overwhelming learning so much material and so many songs, but everyone has been supportive and great.”

Surprisingly, appearing on stage in a bevy of strange outfits and appearing briefly as “Eve” seems to be the least of Swan’s worries.

“The changes and dressing up are what make the show so much fun,” he says. “Eve with a beard and a hairy chest—you can’t help but laugh.”

McGee is the artistic director of the Show Palace Dinner Theater and is on numerous television and radio spots for Amscot Financial. Throughout his career the openly gay actor admits he has worn more dresses than the average man.

“It seems every show there seems to be the conversation of ‘let’s see, is there a dress in a size 20 for Matt?’” McGee told Watermark when he was preparing for the Show Palace’s Nunsense A-Men last fall. “But I enjoy all the work. I love being on stage and I take every opportunity to perform. I enjoy it and I’m a ham.”

The Big Bang! is part of American Stage’s After Hours program and all tickets feature pay-what-you-can pricing.

“Even if you’ve seen this production before, you’ll want to come see it again because each show is a little different,” says Flaa. “You never know what the guys will throw into the mix and sometimes something may go wrong. The guys may use the error to create a laugh or ignore it. You just never know.”

The important thing, however, is to support the theater and its After Hours programming, according to McGee.

“The theater really wants After Hours to take off and so do we,” McGee said. “It’s a chance to support the theater after maybe spending a long dinner with friends or going out for a cocktail or two before. I’m half naked in some of this play, so maybe if you come to the show after a few drinks I’ll look better.”

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