Onstage Atlanta “Designing Women Live” fundraiser receives support from creator, late star


It’s perhaps appropriate that Atlanta actor and playwright Topher Payne scored the “Best Actor/Actress” award last week by the readers of Georgia Voice.

Especially since he’s been on stage portraying “Golden Girl” actress Bea Arthur‘s Dorothy Zabornak, “Designing Women” star Dixie Carter‘s Julia Sugarbaker and playing the inimitable Joan Crawford in his own play “Christina Darling” at Onstage Atlanta over the past year.

“I can’t tell you how excited I was to actually play a guy in [the Onstage Atlanta production of] ‘Loot’ this summer,” Payne tells Intel. “I got to wear pants, flats and my eyebrows grew back. It was awesome.”

This Thursday through Saturday, however, Payne is back in the shoulder padded-accented 1980s garb of Julia Sugarbaker as he helps to re-stage “Designing Women Live” as a benefit for Onstage Atlanta.

Explains Payne: “The short answer is we’re doing this because it was tremendously popular the first time and Onstage Atlanta could really use the support right now.”

 Payne, along with Dewayne Morgan, Joey Ellington, Johnny Drago and Jill Hames act out a pair of “Designing Women” TV scripts penned by creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason that have been adapted for the stage by Payne.

The episodes, selected from the fourth season of the sitcom, don’t arrive on DVD until the fall so Bloodworth-Thomason herself sent along original autographed scripts for the actors to work from so they wouldn’t have to rely on the truncated syndicated broadcast versions of the episodes.

“Linda’s assistant is even coming to a performance,” Payne previews. “It’s been pretty amazing.”

Payne says he initially had some misgivings about re-staging “Designing Women Live” so close to the passing of star Carter this year.

“But a friend of hers came to see it the first time and reported back that she loved the idea,” says Payne. “I feel like we had her blessing.”

And Payne’s reaction to portraying Carter’s character and Bea Arthur’s classic “Golden Girls” cheesecake consumer the same year each actress passed away?

Jokes Payne: “My friends have started calling me The Drag Assassin. Have I mentioned I’m thinking of staging a one-woman Sarah Palin tribute this fall?”

Process Theatre’s production of “Designing Women Live” runs Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. at Onstage Atlanta, 2597 North Decatur Road. Phone: 404-245-4205. For tickets, go to Onstage Atlanta’s official website.