Theater Review: “Under the Sea with Dredgie McGee” at 1st Stage Theater

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Matthew Aldwin McGee in “Under the Sea with Dredgie McGee” on the 1st floor. Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

Dive into the aquatic world of “Under the Sea with Dredgie McGee” at 1st Stage. As you enter the theater you are greeted by music drifting through the room. The guitar accompanies the male vocals and vocalizations, strongly reminiscent of sea shanties. Lights tinged with blue lead us into the depths of the ocean. Dark, rotting algae cover the walls. A dilapidated scene is decorated with salvage from a shipwreck – mermaids, a steering wheel and a cannon to the side. A window at the rear of the ship is adorned with curtains of kelp. However, the whole is cheerful and well cared for. Starfish and seashells add pops of color to the wooden deck. The theater’s intimate setting and audience participation make patrons feel like they’re actors too.

With lively, self-aware humor, this show is perfect for adults and children alike.

“Under the Sea with Dredgie McGee” is an underwater variety show hosted by Dredgie. His show features various aquatic acts, from an octopus magician and his starfish assistant, to the musical trio the Siren Sisters. There’s even a puppet performing a puppet segment. Dredgie’s spectacle is endearing as the flawless puppet-based characters stumble in their acts. I was particularly impressed with how easily the set portrayed various emotions through the puppet – anger, embarrassment, pride – some without speaking a single word. The set fight for glory and fight each other, leaving Dredgie to argue with them. The motley cast of Dredgie’s show instantly won the hearts of the audience who couldn’t help but laugh. With lively, self-aware humor, this show is perfect for adults and children alike. The variety show is set to beautiful original music with a handful of pop culture references, such as Cutting Crew’s “Died in Your Arms.”

Then, of course, there are the unplanned interruptions. Dredgie reads the sea mail of stranded travelers. He meets a genie who puts him in a dream sequence and a sea witch who works on his anger issues. Beneath the hilarity lies a touching story of redemption. Near the end of Act 1, we learn how Dredgie came to live at the bottom of the ocean. His selfish actions hurt the people he cares about most, both in the past and in the present. Dredgie reflects with the help of a musical and magical friend who helps him see that his missing legs aren’t the reason he doesn’t feel whole. Dredgie says, “it’s so hard to navigate forward when you’re clinging to the anchors of your past.” This triggers the show’s finale where Dredgie attempts to sacrifice himself to right his wrongs. In doing so, he receives the honor of Guardian of the Ocean. “Under the Sea with Dredgie McGee” balances the comedy of a variety show, where everything goes wrong, and the deeper themes of finding your inner truth. Characters learn the power of spoken words and the value of the light you can bring to others. Sail with the Dredgie crew on their hilarious misadventures that will keep the whole family smiling.

“Under the Sea” was written and directed by Matthew Aldwin McGee, with El Chelito serving as associate director. McGee is also the founder of the production company Matt-a-Magical, a two-time Jim Henson Foundation Fellow. The award-winning company designed all of the puppets for this show and the craftsmanship that Matt-a-Magical put into their creations is undeniable. “Under the Sea” used multiple forms of puppetry to allow unique and intriguing characters to shine through. It features finger puppets, shadow puppets, hand puppets and larger than life inflatable puppets. The set perfectly brought this wide range of characters to life. The production includes around 24 characters, but is played by an intimate cast of six. Matthew Adlwin McGee plays the lead role. He is joined by Natalie Cutcher as Hexikalina and Suzy Alden, Linda Bard, Ezinne Elele, Lee Gerstenhaber and Jacob Yeh as ensemble. The entire cast used incredible vocal range and technique to portray their characters. A special nod to Jacob Yeh who was my favorite and always made me smile.

1st Stage has grown from a popular company to a nationally acclaimed theater in less than 15 years. The welcoming and intimate setting, along with the dedication of the entire company, makes this a place to watch. Go see “Under the Sea” before it closes!

Duration: About 2h30 with an intermission.

“Under the Sea with Dredgie McGee” runs through June 20, 2022, presented by the 1st Stage Theater1, 1524 Spring Hill Road, Tysons, VA 22102. For more information and tickets, go to on line. All 1st stage staff, performers and audience members must be masked at all times in the theatre. Proof of vaccination will be checked at the door.

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