Not knowing the history of the musical comedy Pageant, when I first heard about it I thought it was about drag pageants, like the 2008 documentary of the same name. But no, Pageant was a Off-Broadway hit in the early 1990s, essentially an ordinary, kinda low-rent beauty pageant in which the female contestants are all played by men. Judging by the current revival, the show is a charming, featherweight bit of fun, without much serious to say about gender: an irreverent but essentially innocent tribute to kitschy Americana. Which is just fine as far as I’m concerned.
This is the Miss Glamouresse competition, a televised event sponsored by “Glamouresse Cosmetics”, makers of Smooth-as-Marble Facial Spackle and other similarly absurd products. There’s a tiny bit of audience participation, in that a panel of judges is selected from the audience; this is handled pretty painlessly and involves little more than giving the “contestants” a numbered score from 1-10. These judges choose between contestants who represent different areas of the United States – much of the evening’s humor comes from caricaturing regional variations on the pageant-queen stereotype.
Our host is the sweetly smarmy Frankie Cavalier (played with great relish by John Bolton), and the troupe of “ladies” are all in some way genuinely appealing – the sharpest barbs are reserved for the inherent sadism and cynicism of pageants themselves. Costume designer Stephen Yearick’s creations successfully tread a fine line between satire and glimpses of genuine glamour.
The humor in Pageant doesn’t cut very deep, and tends towards obvious truisms. That said, the show is cute in a kittenish kind of way, and just as hard to dislike as it is to take seriously.
For tickets, click here.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.