BWW Review: PAGEANT is Pink Cotton Candy Escapism
PAGEANT, when it originally opened in 1991, was almost ground breaking. The idea of doing a musical parody of a beauty pageant performed by men in drag was fresh... and a little bit crazy in all the good ways. However, twenty five years later, in 2016, the concept creaks in a world where we have RuPaul's Drag Race and traditional beauty pageants have been relegated to cable channels few people watch.
A second rate host, Frankie Cavalier (Rick Felkins), presides over the competition for the title of Miss Glamouresse. Six competitors represent different regions: Miss Deep South (James Springer), blond and full figured; Miss Industrial Northeast (James Monreal), who speaks with a thick accent and studies hairdressing while working in a women's detention center; Miss Great Plains (Michael Wheeler), from Oklahoma; Miss West Coast (Boyce Templin), named Karma Quinn, a Valley girl type who has experienced reincarnation; and Miss Bible Belt (Jalal Goggins) - a devout bible thumper who is anything but demure. Representing the Lone Star State, is Miss Texas (Kirk Kelso), a gal who works with the "beauty-impaired." The big gimmick here is judges are chosen from the audience and the winner can change from performance to performance, so the "girls" have to be up for anyone to be the big winner.
The humor here has the emphasis on blunt and well-worn stereotypes. The boys playing these girls do fully embrace these cartoon characters they've been given with total commitment, and we are presented with a range of convincingly female portrayals. To be fair, some are given better material than others. Some also are a little more fearless in their portrayals, and in a script that is this paper thin, that has a lot to do with how successful these cartoons are.
Jim Lindsay has done a good job with keeping the show moving and presenting pleasant staging. Rachel Hoovler has also done a nice job with the mostly instantly forgettable score. The choreography by Laura Lund and Jim Lindsay is often clever and fun. Bert Flanagan's costuming hits the right tacky note as does Andy Berkovsky's set design which channels drag show.
Some of the better moments are in the talent competition which include James Springer with Miss Deep South's puppets and the Martha Graham inspired dance done by Boyce Templin as Karma Quinn. Also highly enjoyable was Kirk Kelso's inspired head bobs as Miss Texas (hard to describe but when he does it, you'll know what I'm talking about) and the multiple lost blank expressions out to the audience by Michael Wheeler. And it's kind of hard not to like someone roller skating while playing the accordion... hats off to James Monreal for an extremely funny bit.
The energy seemed to be off at the performance I caught, which was the day of the Orlando tragedy, and I can and do completely understand why. These performers are to be lauded for holding to that fine old theatrical tradition of "the show must go on" even when hearts are heavy. They made me laugh on a very hard day, and I thank them for their talent and commitment.
There is no deep message in PAGEANT. It is designed and executed as a pink cotton candy piece of escapism. And, in that regard, it succeeded beautifully. And in these dark days, a good laugh is something wonderful.
Running time: Approximately Two Hours plus one intermission.
PAGEANT, produced by City Theatre (3823 Airport Blvd. Suite D., Austin, Tx.) Playing through June 19th, 2016. Thursdays - Saturdays 8:00 p.m., Sundays 3:00 pm. Tickets, call 512-524-2870 or e-mail email@example.com. / www.citytheatreaustin.org