BWW Review: PAGEANT - The Guys Are Dolls, the Beauty Is Bawdy, But The Play Lacks Legs

From time to time, actors have to make do with what they've got ~ whether it's the venue, their director, or the script. What the seven tried and true thespians of Arizona Broadway Theatre's current production of PAGEANT have is a theatrical chestnut that's gone tired and stale. To their credit, they eke out lemonade from...well, you know what I mean.

When PAGEANT premiered in 1991 at Manhattan's legendary Blue Angel, the idea of six guys in drag playing wannabe beauty queens was titillating and silly enough to garner accolades (e.g., the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical, 1992). Not so much in 2016. Sure, there's still a part of America that's keen on and enthusiastically awaits the crowning of Miss America and Miss Universe, and there are moms who are devotedly primping their daughters for the runway, and there are boomers who get a rise out of a guy in stilettos. But, given what audiences have been exposed to in the ensuing twenty-five years, this stuff feels tame and lame and ready for retirement. Market-savvy ABT knows its audience, though, and has picked PAGEANT to complete what has been an otherwise very impressive eleventh Season.

Conceived by director and choreographer Robert Longbottom (Flower Drum Song, Bye Bye Birdie, The Scarlet Pimpernel), the spoof spotlights the six finalists for the title of Miss Glamouresse and the rigmarole they endure as they display their distinctive talents ~ that Something Extra, as it were.

Jon Gentry plays the part of Frankie Cavalier, the debonair master of ceremonies, who is something of a cross between a carnival barker, Bert Parks, and Bob Barker. Gentry, who is a master at his craft and a genius of comic effect, adds panache to the role and wields his swinging mike with authority, but even his unique talents can't compensate for lines that fall flat and shticks that grow stale.

As the challenges of skin, figure, talent, and knowledge unfold, each Miss has a chance to strut her stuff. Miss Industrial Northeast (Eddie Maldonado) is a Latina roller-skating accordionist. Miss Bible Belt (James Roberts IV) belts out Gospel and glossolalia. Miss Deep South (David Vogel) displays ventriloquial and manual dexterity with two dummies. Miss Great Plains (Michael Lamasa) ~ "I am the land" ~ rebukes the government for polluting the environment. Miss Texas (Kurtis Overby) taps away at the image of the All-American cowgirl. Miss West Coast (Seth Tucker) is like a space cadet from Haight Ashbury contemplating the Seven Stages of Me in psychedelic uncertainty ~ "I search, I die, I am reborn."

Yes, the show is tipsy with stereotypes, one of which even requires a Cavalier apology! Yes, the show is silly and campy and lighthearted. And, yes, in the end, beauty will be judged in the eye of the beholder ~ which, in the case of PAGEANT is left to judges from the audience.

PAGEANT continues its run through September 18th.

Photo credit to Arizona Broadway Theatre

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From This Author Herbert Paine

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