March 22, 2001
Spoof: With men playing women in this beauty pageant musical, audiences are assured a show full of laughs.
A man clowning it up as a woman has always raised a laugh. That's the idea behind "Pageant", a musical playing at Rep Stage in Columbia. The actors in the cast, though, give much better performances than the amateur effects you sometimes see at parties. And the laughs are there - plenty of them.
The show is a spoof of that all American institution, the beauty pageant - in fact, it's structured like one, with an oily master of ceremonies, a parade of contestants representing different parts of the country and a full range of competitions - evening gown, talent, swimsuits and physical fitness. For good measure, the script takes enjoyable shots at wide-open targets such as television commercials and the cosmetics industry.
The pageant in question is sponsored by a cosmetics manufacturer, Glamouresse. The master of ceremonies (played with flair by Ty Hreben) introduces to the audience six semifinalists who are competing for the title of Miss Glamouresse and a one year contract to be the company's spokesperson: Miss Texas (Randolph Hadaway), Miss Bible Belt (Stuart Goldstone), Miss Deep South (James J. Waltz), Miss Great Plains (Douglas Lisenbee), Miss West Coast (David C. Allen) and Miss Industrial Northeast (Brian Jacobs). The audience gets to know all of them - if not as people at least as amusing caricatures. The actors have done a fine job of giving the contestants individual personalities. And all of them seem to be having a wonderful time kidding the pretentions of professional beauties. The expressions, gestures and moves are all there, hilariously exaggerated.
That is why the show is written for male performers. They bring to the roles an external perspective that makes the artificial behavior of the contestants more obvious. There is no plot to "Pageant" - the show just follows the contest from start to finish. This gives it an episodic structure, but the episodes are well calculated, with full-cast numbers alternating with solo spots.
There is a wisp of story toward the end, when the finalists are chosen. Five of the contestants make the cut, but one is eliminated. (This is necessary because the actor has to play a different part later.) The audience might be expected to feel sorry for the loser, which would introduce a note of sadness inappropriate to the show. But with theatrical savvy, the authors arrange things so that the elimination gets a laugh instead.
Five or six members of the audience are designated as judges and the show ends as on of the contestants - presumably a different one at each performance - is proclaimed Miss Glamouresse.
The dialogue and lyrics by Bill Russell and Frank Kelly are sharp and funny and, considering the opportunities, free of material that might be called off-color. (A few of the lines drew laughs not traceable to their literal meaning. Double entendres, of course, are in the mind of the hearer.)
Albert Evans' score is full of lively tunes and includes frequent quotations of well-known songs that add spice to the mix and point up the action. All the performers displayed good singing voices. A three piece band: Steve Zumbrun pianist and musical director, Lisa Baker , drums, and Adrien Cox, bass kept the beat flowing.
Director Terry J. Long moved and grouped his characters effectively and paid meticulous attention to the details of their movement and gesture. Robert Marietta's set was appropriately flashy, dominated by a back curtain made of glittering silver tinsel that afforded the actors effective entrances. Ed Zarkowski doubled on props and makeup. The latter transformed masculine faces into convincing women. The props, mostly cosmetic items supposedly made by the pageant's sponsor, showed a nice combination of reality and comic extravagance.
The musical runs a little under two hours, with no intermission. It's a high energy show that moves fast and doesn't give the audience a chance to feel restless.
Serious-minded folk who come to see "Pageant" might consider it a political statement or a commentary on gender identity. But it's best to think of it as just a fun show.