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Review: GORGEOUS at Renaissance Theatre Company

The world premiere of this fresh, irreverent, fantastic and fabulously funny original musical thrills in Orlando

Review: GORGEOUS at Renaissance Theatre Company There's something special about being the first audiences to see a new musical. For a musical theatre nerd like me, it is a thrill that is practically unmatched. And since I don't live in New York City or thereabouts anymore, it is not something that happens that often. Which is why I was excited to be sitting in the audience for the first performance of an original musical, GORGEOUS, at the Renaissance Theatre Company. As Donald Rupe, Artistic Director and Co-founder of the Renaissance Theatre Company and creator (Book/Music/Lyrics) of GORGEOUS, shared during his curtain speech, the Ren aims to produce new and original theatre in Central Florida and beyond. And I am confident to say, as evidenced by this hilarious, irreverent and entertaining production, that mission is being lived out well by this not-even-a-year-old company, with a level of talent and passion that could hold its own with some of the most established theatres in the country.

Review: GORGEOUS at Renaissance Theatre Company Written by Donald Rupe, with arrangements and orchestrations by Jason M. Bailey, GORGEOUS, is "loosely based" on the cult classic film "Drop Dead Gorgeous" and tells the story of the Ms. Golden Boot Pageant (and scholarship ceremony), an annual tradition in St. Crowd, Florida (a thinly veiled parody of St. Cloud, Florida) and the contestants who are all vying for the coveted prize of being named Ms. Golden Boot. The plot is centered around the Buckley clan - mom, Breanna Buckley (Rebecca Jo Lightfoot) and her two daughters, Becky (Kristie Geng) who has been training for this pageant her whole life, and her bookish sister Bernice (Kendall Leamy) who could care less about the pageant. Enter the flamboyant, outlandish town choreographer Svedka Stolichnaya (Blake Aburn) who turns the contest on its ear by singling out Bernice and insisting she compete, adding family tension to the already high stakes event. We soon see what lengths some will go to ensure victory and learn a little bit about compassion and acceptance along the way.

Review: GORGEOUS at Renaissance Theatre Company GORGEOUS is an extended version of a show that premiered at the Orlando Fringe Festival a few years back to much acclaim. I did not have the pleasure of seeing the shorter version, but this fully realized version of the show works extremely well. Donald Rupe's score (artfully orchestrated by Jason M. Bailey) is memorable and at times quite thrilling, with everything one might look for in a musical theatre score - introspective ballads, catchy production numbers (I can't stop thinking about there being "amoebas in the lake"), emotional releases and some well-executed counterpoint group numbers that brought the house down - there's even a dream ballet (along with a hilarious history lesson about its origins). Mr. Rupe's book is solid - using the first act to introduce the audience to the characters and evolving conflict and the second act to let it all play out on the pageant stage. The second act works particularly well since the audience serves as the audience at Ms. Golden Boot - allowing a deeper connection with the characters and an immersive feel. Overall, the experience was immensely positive with one small exception. Much of Svedka's schtick is centered around her "mother Russia", which unfortunately landed a bit off in today's environment with the horrific war in Ukraine currently raging on. Otherwise, even the most irreverent jokes landed well with the packed audience on opening night.

Review: GORGEOUS at Renaissance Theatre Company Besides a strong score and a solid book, what makes GORGEOUS an extremely fresh, entertaining and funny show is its stellar cast. As Bernice Buckley, Kendall Leamy is brilliant. Her comic timing is spot on and she garners many laughs with just a look or a well-placed gesture. She gives us a Bernice that is misunderstood (especially in a house of pageant queens) and lonely, but who breaks out of her shell due to this unusual and likely experience, delivering heart wrenching moments like her number "Different Inside". Playing counterpoint to her kindness and introspection is the fiery and entitled Becky, played to pageant perfection by Kristie Geng. Ms. Geng's delivery of the emotional "Pretty Girl In an Ugly World" was a highlight of the night. Both Ms. Leamy and Ms. Geng were favorites of mine in The Ren's OFFICE PARTY...MUSICAL, so it was a thrill to see them bring these two very different characters to life on stage. Rounding out the Buckley trio is Rebecca Jo Lightfoot as, Breanna Buckley. Every time Ms. Lightfoot walks on stage, you know something good/funny/exciting is going to happen. Her characterization of the stereotypical southern pageant queen-turned-mom is spot on. She also has a number of opportunities to show off her own powerhouse voice throughout the show. As Svedka, Blake Aburn is a force to be reckoned with every time he takes the stage. He chews the scenery magnificently, and creates in Svedka an antagonist who strikes fear in all her "beauty bitches" and a bit of an anti-hero you find yourself rooting for in the end. The rest of the cast makes up the remaining contestants of Ms. Golden Boot and each have their Review: GORGEOUS at Renaissance Theatre Company own hilarious moment in the spotlight. Isabel Bernal is innocent and loveable as Andrea Adams, who proves a worthy foe for Becky (and Breanna). Mikey Reichert is very funny as the sole male, stereotypically gay, contestant, David Minelli, and garners laughs every time he speaks (due to a rare speech impediment that he apparently shares with Nicki Minaj). Yan Diaz has some hilarious moments as Blessica Williams, the pageant's (and possibly St. Crowd's) only Puerto Rican. Madison Gomez-Teixeira delivers some spot-on physical comedy as Cheryl Parker-Rodriguez who got "teen pregnant" due to a misunderstanding in Chastity Club. Lizzy Allen is the awkward and strange Ethel, who relates more to cats than the other contestants, and Grace Boynton plays double duty as Andrea's mom (and Breanna's former rival) Stacey Ann and the pageant's oldest contestant Ashleigh Anne Peters. Rounding out the cast is Kaitlyn Batchelor who has a very funny running gag throughout the show and Samantha Stonecipher who has an equally funny moment at the end of the pageant.

Director Sara Catherine Barnes does a great job keeping the action moving throughout and has obviously worked very hard with the whole cast on building their zany characters and their comedic delivery. Jason M. Bailey's music direction comes through strongly in the performances from the entire cast. Adonus Mabry's choreography is fun and a perfect fit for the pageant setting. J. Marie Bailey's costumes are strong, with particularly, well, gorgeous gowns in the pageant finale. Rachel Del Valle Lupos' scenic design is solid and Philip Lupo's lighting and Stephen Jones' sound designs help bring the story and the score to vivid life.

So, if you are looking for a musical that is fresh, irreverent, and downright pee-your-pants funny, GORGEOUS may be exactly what you are looking for. The original (yet somewhat familiar) story makes it immediately accessible allowing the audience to sit back and simply enjoy the frenetic, fantastic and fabulously funny ride that is this original musical. And besides that, how often do you get to say you were there at the start of what I am sure will become a cult classic just like its (sort-of) movie namesake?

Review: GORGEOUS at Renaissance Theatre Company

GORGEOUS presented by Renaissance Theatre Company runs through April 10th, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM and two Thursdays (3/31 and 4/7) at 8:00 PM. Tickets are $29. Proof of vaccination or negative COVID test needed for entry. The Renaissance Theatre Company is located at 415 E Princeton St., Orlando, FL . Tickets can be purchased by visiting https://rentheatre.com/gorgeous.

Photos by Ashleigh Ann Gardner



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