Dallas — Spike heels and a tiara aren’t everything, but throw in a five o’clock shadow, and you have a sure-fire recipe for two hours of foot-stomping, tear-streaming laughter at Uptown Players’ hilarious production of Pageant, an off-Broadway hit from 1991, directed here by Chris Robinson with a sly wink and one toothy smile after another. Whether singing, dancing, praying for global peace or strutting their “something extra” in the bathing suit competition, make no mistake about what’s at stake. These guys, dripping with mascara and glowing with testosterone, are great-looking women.
Pageant satirizes beauty contests by recreating one. The Miss Glamouresse Pageant, a hit for Uptown in a 2006 production, is back. The show, written by Bill Russell and Frank Kelly, with music by Albert Evans, is an affectionate spoof of the beauty show tradition of pretending that pretty women must also have brains and talent to win the crown. Six contestants compete against each other, displaying their wonderfully wonky talents, and a new Miss Glamouresse 2014 is crowned at each performance at the Kalita Humphreys Theater.
Five judges are selected from the audience each evening and our lovely ladies turn their bountiful backsides to the audience so they can’t see the fatal flashing of the numbers. The real Miss Dallas, Laryssa Bonacquisti, a talented ventriloquist, was a guest judge on Saturday night. A playful sense of drum-roll suspense is conjured up before we hear, “And the winner is...” Applause, victory, joy, defeat, tears. Tall, svelte and sexy Miss Texas (a posture perfect, hot tap-dancing, baton-twirling Walter Lee) won when I saw the show. Laughing approval swelled through the audience when the defeated and disgruntled Miss Bible Belt (a buxom, ruthlessly righteous Ashton McKay Shawver) shot a furious finger at the clearly blind judges!
The fun of the show, in fact, is in the spot-on recreation—and comic exaggeration—of females vying to out-bitch one another while trying to appear ladylike and lovely. They’re all into peddling the sponsor’s beauty products, and some of the best bits in the show are their demonstrations of everything from giant lipsticks to zit-conquering “beauty plaster.” It’s a hoot, right down to the glittering evening gown parade and the smarmy emcee, Frankie Cavalier (a fabulously fawning B. J. Cleveland, replete with white dinner jacket and sequined blue vest).
All the contestants have their wild and weird moments, but they do come together in their mutual quest to look gorgeous no matter what. They all kick up their silver heels in the opening number, “Natural Born Females,” as they shout out, “It’s our honor and our duty to work hard at beauty!” And they fulfill that duty—right up to the final wink and giggle.
Everybody portrays their regional stereotypes with comic zeal, and their bizarre talents range from the delightful to the downright desperate. Miss Deep South (a grandly gracious and magnificently coiffed Peter DiCesare) brings down the house with her gigantic granny-and-gramps hand puppets, projecting their respective voices in a squealing falsetto and gruff bass. Miss Industrial Northeast (Sergio Antonio Garcia channeling Latina tomboy and New Jersey street smarts) got my vote for goofiest talent combo when she played the accordion while whirling around the stage on roller skates. Let’s hear it for one show-stopping skill set.
Everybody loves the hapless Miss Great Plains (a flustered and freckled Micah Green), the plain-vanilla- and-proud-of-it also-ran whose favorite color is beige. Dumbest-blonde-ever honors go to Miss West Coast (a wide-eyed and solid platinum Drew Kelly) who does volunteer work “with the beauty impaired,” and whose high jinks include an interpretive dance swathed in a blue cocoon and a full-body roll down the stage stairs. Whatever it takes to win!
Dennis Canright’s set design looks like a souped-up state fair venue, and Uptown’s five-piece orchestra, led by Kevin Gunter, is up-tempo and lively. Suzi Cranford’s costumes are glitzy and clever, Russ Brouse’s makeup is marvelous and sweat-proof, and Coy Covington’s wigs are terrific, especially Miss Great Plains’ shiny bouncing curls.
Need something to laugh about? Go see Pageant.