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Columbia Flier

By Mike Giuliano

The new show at Rep Stage is a real drag. To be more specific, it's a drag show in which all six beauty pageant contestants are played by men vying for the title of Miss Glamouresse.

Although "Pageant" is populated by rather broad-shouldered contestants, it's much like an ordinary beauty contest in every other way. Make of that what you will.

One thing you're likely to make of it is that "Pageant" is a silly show that's easy to watch. Its geographically generous sextet of contestants _ the Misses Bible Belt, Deep South, Texas, Industrial Northeast, West Coast and Great Plains _ engage in the evening gown, swimsuit and other competitions you'd expect in a genuine contest.

These self-described "natural-born females made in the USA" twirl American flag-tipped batons, play the accordion, belt sappy songs, give inane answers to the equally inane questions posed by the show's host, promote facial "spackle" and other ludicrous beauty aides marketed by the pageant-sponsoring cosmetic company, and relentlessly smile their way into the good graces of the contest's judges.

The latter, incidentally, are recruited from among audience members in Howard Community College's Theatre Outback.

It's fun, if perhaps overly familiar fun, to watch a beauty pageant spoof that pretty much follows the routine of one of those dreadful spectacles. Still, "Pageant" can't quite overcome the fact that it's sending up an institution that already verges on self-parody.

Don't expect any revelations or much that's outrageously clever, but there are more than enough laughs along the way. And these are jokes appropriate for just about any family member. Sporting book and lyrics by Bill Russell and Frank Kelly, and music by Albert Evans, this show has its share of double entendre-laced humor and yet knows where to draw the line.

If the Rep Stage production runs through its numbers with real precision _ or imprecision in the case of musical numbers that are meant to be incompetent _ it's doubtless because director Terry J. Long and some of the cast members were attached to previous Baltimore-area productions of this 1986 musical.

Cast members James J. Waltz, Randolph Hadaway, Brian Jacobs, David C. Allen and Douglas Lisenbee are all fetching in their outfits and attitudes, but special mention must be made of Stuart Goldstone as Miss Bible Belt. Goldstone is the most facially expressive of these gals and delves so deeply into caricature that a character emerges amid all the silliness.

Ty Hreben is suitably smug as the egotistical host Frankie Cavalier, who'd just as soon stand in front of the talent as tout it. Backing up the host and contestants on a glitteringly kitschy set is music director Steve Zumbrun, leading a trio that would do any beauty pageant or wedding proud.

Technically, this production is smooth but too subdued. The lighting needs to be brighter in places, and the sound needs to be boosted. One thing "Pageant" should not be is subtle. The gals, er, guys, er, whatever, performing on stage are going all out, but the production otherwise needs to become more tasteless.

Rep Stage's presentation of "Pageant" runs through April 8 in Howard Community College's Theatre Outback (Columbia, 410-772-4900). Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $18 Fridays, $20 Saturdays, $16 Sunday matinees and $14 Sunday evenings. There will be a post-show discussion after the March 23 performance.

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