This year's holiday edition of The Golden Girls Live at the Victoria Theatre is every bit as campy and delightful as it always is, but with a new addition to the cast.
The surprising loss of Heklina earlier this year meant that the annual holiday institution of The Golden Girls Live: The Christmas Episodes would need to reconfigure itself and find a new star. Within a few months we learned that would be New York-based drag star Miss Coco Peru, a.k.a. Clinton Leupp, a veteran of stage, screen, and TV.
"Although her shoes can never be filled, I'm honored to step in for my good friend and drag sister, Heklina, in the role of Dorothy Zbornak," Coco said in a statement following the casting announcement. "I believe with all my heart that Heklina would give me her blessing, and then call me a cu*t!"
Jettisoning her signature red flip wig, Coco assumes an outsized gray wig as Dorothy, and looks hardly anything like herself as she becomes Dorothy in this year's two episodes.
As Heklina had explained to SFist in the past, The Golden Girls only ever aired two Christmas-specific episodes during its seven-season run. So in a quest to keep things fresh, the Golden Girls Live show has traditionally picked other favorites from the canon and "Christmas-i-fied" them — tossing a tree and some holiday decor on the set and throwing in a line or two about "the holidays."
This year's two episodes make only a glancing effort, and mostly stick to their non-Xmas scripts — the first half of the show reenacts a Season 7 episode, "From Here to the Pharmacy," in which a former lover of Blanche's comes back from the Persian Gulf and wants to rekindle their romance; the second act features a hilarious episode, also from Season 7, "Goodbye, Mr. Gordon," which centers on Dorothy getting a blast from the past in the form of her former high school English teacher, whom she had a huge crush on.
The comedic gold of the latter episode comes not from Dorothy's reignited crush, but from a side plot about Rose, who's now employed at a local TV station, recruiting Dorothy and Blanche to come on a daytime talkshow as "women who live together in Miami." The show ends up, of course, being about lesbians, and in order to keep Rose from being fired, Blanche and Dorothy have to grit their teeth and play along.
Miss Peru does an excellent job channeling Bea Arthur — in all her sauntering and scolding in long, flowing, cowl-necked knitwear. While Heklina tended to do her own version of the character, Coco brings her natural New York accent to the role — the character of Dorothy grew up in Brooklyn, though Bea Arthur's accent was generally more subtle.
Matthew Martin is again delightful and bawdy as Blanche — a role he had played alongside Heklina's Dorothy since the earliest days of these reenactments, which began in 2007 in a friend's living room before expanding to full stagings.
Holotta Tymes steps naturally back into the shoes of Sophia, which she's done every holiday season now since 2015. (Holotta stepped into the role following the untimely passing of Cookie Dough, whom we also lost too soon.)
"Fifth Golden Girl" and 13-time supporting player Manuel Caneri returns as Mr. Gordon, and Michael Phillis (Patty From HR, Thighs Wide Shut) takes the roles of Bill and the TV show host.
And D'Arcy Drollinger, Oasis owner and SF's Drag Laureate herself, returns as Rose, a role she has played since 2015 — and she coincidentally shares a birthday with the late Betty White.
"Getting to play the dingbat is so fun," Drollinger said. "I have to make her larger-than-life for the stage. Physical comedy is my favorite."
Drollinger, who has specialized for years in scripted drag film parodies like her original production Shit & Champagne, has a particular love of breaking the fourth wall as she delivers Rose's goofier lines, mouing, contorting her mouth and widening her eyes toward the audience for extra laughs.
This year, as in previous years, "commercial breaks" in the show are filled with Christmas-song sing-a-longs, with accompanist Tom Shaw on piano at the right side of the stage. (I will say, I kind of miss the vintage TV commercials that were once a feature of these shows.)
Check out The Golden Girls Live: The Christmas Episodes Wednesday through Sunday, through December 23 at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. on Sunday), with a 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday and 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Find tickets here.