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BWW Review: Circuit's PAGEANT Offers 50 Shades of Pink

If you decide to attend Circuit Playhouse's production of PAGEANT in the next few weeks, and if you find yourself blushing at some of the eyebrow-raising humor, there's no need for alarm: Pink cheeks will blend right in, as the stage, many of the dresses and gowns, and much of the make-up are redolent with that color. However, the musical tends more toward the "purple" at times, with innuendo, knowing looks, and pregnant pauses. Nonetheless, Robert Longbottom's lightweight little satire (with Book and Lyrics by Bill Russell and Frank Kelly and Music by Albert Evans) is a relatively harmless (and highly enjoyable) outing.

The plot itself is simple enough: Six contestants vie for the title of "Miss Glamoresse," and each represents a region of the country, with the exception of the out-sized Miss Texas. The "catch," of course, is that each of these self-absorbed, ambitious "ladies" is personified by a male actor; and the six gentlemen assaying these parts are evidently enjoying themselves immensely. They are, in fact, a varied lot (each stereotypically represents the region from which "she" comes). "Miss Bible Belt" (Marc Gill) is "proud, black, and beautiful" -- and prayerful (except when crossed, even by the Deity); "Miss West Coast" (a ditsy turn by Dane Van Brocklin) believes in reincarnation (and, from what we see, never had a sufficiency of gray cells in any one of them); Miss Industrial Northeast (played with a fiery "Googie Gomez"-like accent by Isaac Middleton) struts as if she had jalapenos in her heels; drab Miss Great Plains (Wilson Good) has the limpest coiffure in the group; Miss Deep South (a "butter wouldn't melt in your mouth" Nathan McHenry) is like the simpering Southern Belle in Quentin Tarantino's DJANGO UNCHAINED; and, finally, Miss Texas (Jordan Nichols) is a state all her own -- and one who knows her way around the runway. As delightful as these "ladies" are, at the core of the play is the not-quite-a-Rat Packer emcee "Frankie Cavalier," providing Brent Davis with plenty of latitude for lascivious looks and creepy charm.

The creators of PAGEANT are well acquainted with those moments that make us wince or roll our eyes, and they evidently have an affection for them as well. All the competitions are wickedly lampooned -- swimsuit, evening gown, etc.: Spots are even assigned to highlight various Glamoresse products (beauty spackle, anyone?), and, hilariously, there are those moments in such competitions when the contestants are asked "serious" questions from the beauty-impaired. All of this is interpolated with talent segments: Miss Deep South proves a mistress at ventriloquism (anyone recall 1965's Vonda Kay Van Dyke?), Miss Texas brings out the lasso and taps with abandon (a joyous turn by Mr. Nichols), Miss West Coast offers a laughter-invoking "The Seven Ages of Me" ("her" emerging from the womb was one of the funniest bits in the play), and so forth.

Obviously, audience members pretty much know what to expect when they attend a production like this; anyone looking for substance or meaning should probably stay at home with PBS. However, Director Ken Zimmerman (a master at such eye-winking enterprises) knows how to make this kind of material as light as a beauty contestant's powder puff, and with no Intermission, it's over before you know it. With a late appearance by Gary Cook as "Tawny-Jo Johnson," the year's previous winner -- and reluctant to give up her crown. Steve Harvey should take notes. Photo courtesy of Circuit Playhouse. Through April 9.

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From This Author Joseph Baker

I received my Master of Arts Degree in English from Memphis State University and worked as an English instructor at Christian Brothers High School from (read more...)