I have had an opportunity to see and to enjoy "Pageant" on two occasions over the past few months. My first encounter with the musical occurred when the show ran in a limited engagement as part of Broadway Cares - Equity Fights AIDS. I saw it again most recently in its current home at the Davenport Theater of West 45th Street.
The musical is a wonderfully campy send-up of the beauty pageant industry. The conceit is that the audience is attending the finals of the Miss Glamouresse beauty pageant to determine who will reign as the Miss Glamouresse Beauty Spokesperson for the Glamouresse Cosmetic Company. The semi-finalists are Miss Great Plains, Miss Industrial Northeast, Miss Texas, Miss Deep South, Miss West Coast and Miss Bible Belt. The contestants compete in the usual evening gown, swimwear and talent competitions. In addition, they must each demonstrate a Glamouresse product and spontaneously respond to callers who dial into the Glamouresse Beauty Hot-line. The fact that each of the six contestants is played by a Broadway actor in drag makes for an evening of uproarious laughter and non-stop parody and scenery-chewing.
The show first ran Off-Broadway in 1991, conceived by Robert Longbottom, with Book and Lyrics by Bill Russell & Frank Kelly, with Music by Albert Evans. The current production is directed by Matt Lenz with spectacular costumes designed by Stephen Yearick.
The evening's festivities are overseen by Host Frankie Cavalier, played magnificently by John Bolton. With over-the-top wink-wink, nudge-nudge in his every look and leer, he channels Bert Parks and every other smarmy beauty pageant host who ever ogled the pulchritudinous contestants. The audience is invited to participate, with judges chosen from among audience members who vote on who will wear the coveted rhinestone tiara.
The contestants convey personalities and accents consistent with the region they represent. Individually, they are astonishing; collectively they are an absolute hoot!
Nick Cearley is wondrously frumpy as Miss Great Plains, a woman of the earth, whose favorite color is beige. In terms of sheer beauty, Miss Great Plains is clearly out of her league, but in terms of acting chops, Mr. Cearley is in a league of his own.
Nic Corey is Miss Industrial Northeast and an additional role that I will not reveal lest I spoil a plot twist. Mr. Corey plays this role of a sizzling beauty as a hot tamale of a Latina immigrant, whose "talent" is playing half of an accordion while almost dancing.
Alex Ringler is the statuesque Miss Texas, a Lone Star Blue Blood who comes from money and has been competing in pageants all of her life. Miss Texas is so gorgeous that she could win a legitimate beauty contest - except for the guns that she totes: a six-shooter and biceps that Lou Ferrigno would die for.
Marty Thomas sachets on stage as Miss Deep South. All magnolia charm and sorghum sweetness, Miss Deep South performs a ventriloquism act that in its own right is remarkable, but which also is a perfect parody of talent acts frequently seen in the heyday of the televised Miss America Pageant. Mr. Thomas is the very soul of southern charm, except for the moment when she learns that she is not the winner. A woman scorned . . . !
Curtis Wiley is Miss Bible Belt - all curvaceous fire and brimstone. When she sings about the Lord as her investment counselor, she transports us all to church. Can I get a witness?!
Seth Tucker is the latest incarnation of Miss West Coast - all New Age vacuity with an empty 1,000 yard stare. Her cluelessness in every aspect of the show becomes a staple that the audience looks forward to. Mr. Tucker conveys "ditsy" at its finest and most vapid.
I had with me as a guest a serious and classically trained actor. He could not stop laughing throughout the evening, as was the case with most audience members. Following the show, I was introduced the lyricist and author Bill Russell, whose "Side Show" is returning to Broadway soon. He said to me: "When we wrote this show over twenty years ago, the beauty pageant world was fading. But it seems to be experiencing a re-birth. I am delighted that today's audiences are finding it relevant and entertaining."
A special note to my NYC friends who are involved with other plays and musicals. "Pageant" has a Monday evening performance, so treat yourself to a "bus man's holiday," and use your night off to see some of New York's finest talent on the runway. It may be the crowning event of your week!
354 W. 45th Street
New York, NY 10019
Extended through October 26, 2014
Buy your tickets today by clicking here.
Visit Pageant the Musical‘s official website.