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'Pageant' [Review]

Silly drag musical comedy puts you in charge of naming ‘Miss Glamouresse.’



Pageant is a beauty pageant in musical comedy form. The contestants compete in all of the standard rounds of a pageant: evening wear, swimsuit, talent and personality. Only one thing is different from your typical beauty pageant--all of the women competing for the title of "Miss Glamouresse" are played by men.


The Parody Pageant


The show is completely superficial, but that's pretty much the point. And after the opening number in which the six "women" sing about being "all-natural females," the fact that the musical stars men dressed as women stops being the focus of the show. Pageant features six male actors in drag, but it's not about men in drag, as the men play their female characters without mockery of the gender of the characters.


Instead, the humor of the show is largely bound up in regional stereotypes, though some--such as Miss Industrial Northeast (Nic Corey), a Latina women's prison secretary studying to be a hairdresser--are more nuanced and intelligent than others, like the one-note Miss Bible Belt (Curtis Wiley). There is also an over-the-top parody of the most absurd beauty products you can imagine, through little promos that the contestants perform (with varying degrees of success) for the pageant's sponsor, Glamouresse.


Diamonds in the Rough

The best part of the show for me was the talent section, a combination of legitimate performed talents such as tap dance and ventriloquism and complete absurdity. New-age Miss West Coast (Seth Tucker) performs an interpretative dance depicting birth and all of life itself, while daddy's girl Miss Texas (Alex Ringler) throws riding a toy horse and mock gun-shooting into her dance routine.

There were also several excellent tidbits of feminism woven into the play, from the declaration that women can be strong and powerful while still being feminine to criticizing the need for make-up at all. These are the moments when Pageant shines, as it dares to take itself seriously even as it features men in glittery dresses singing about their own beauty.

The unique feature of the musical is that in the end, the host hands scorecards out to the audience members he identified earlier as judges (with absurd minor celebrity qualifications), and they get to vote for the winner. It was a detail that made me perk up instantly and realize just how invested I was in the characters, such as when my favorite character (Miss Great Plains, played by Nick Cearley) only won third place. It also means that there is a different winner every night, which is always fun.

Cheap and Glitzy, Like a Real Pageant

With big costumes, bigger hair and glitter everywhere in a delightful parody of the real deal, Pageant is a show for people who watch beauty pageants on TV--to make fun of them, of course. The stripped-down orchestra, consisting of only a drummer and a keyboardist in a pit visible to the audience, adds to the sense of low budget and big heart that characterizes the show. The songs often feel more like decoration than the center of the performance as is usual for a musical, but they provide moments of humor that keep energy up and the audience happy.

Ultimately, Pageant is a cheap fluff sort of show, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. If a drag beauty pageant sounds like it might be fun, go ahead and give it a try. Pageant plays Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 7:30 and Mondays at 7 at Davenport Theatre through September 21. This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.