Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Don't Dress for Dinner
Pageant follows a traditional beauty pageant format. The contestants are introduced and proceed to compete in a variety of categories, including talent, swimsuit, and evening wear. They also have to show their spokesperson skills in hocking a series of god-awful beauty products and display their ability to think quickly in answering a beauty crisis hotline. The contest is sponsored by Glamouresse Beauty Products and the winner will be crowned Miss Glamouresse. The competition has a host but the judges are picked from the audience. There is the chance of a different winner being crowned at each performance, which also adds a fun layer of spontaneity to the show.
While Albert Evans' music is serviceable, Bill Russell and Frank Kelly's book and lyrics have as much spunk as the six contestants. The book may mock the traditions of these pageants and the stereotypical traits of many of the contestants, but the show and the characters are full of charm. Originally produced in 1991, this version features the updated book from the 2014 Off Broadway revival plus a few current adlibs from the cast.
Seth Tucker, who appeared in the recent 2014 New York production, directs and choreographs the show for ABT and also plays Miss West Coast. His experience with the musical shows in the skilled, humorous portrayals he gets from his talented co-stars. There isn't a weak link in the entire cast. His fun choreography makes even more of an impression when you notice the very tall high heels the six men are wearing as they expertly navigate the intricate dance steps.
ABT favorite Kurtis W. Overby is a hoot as Miss Texas. His cowgirl tap dance is hilarious; at the performance I attended, he was the first runner up, and the venomous, jealous looks he gave the winner were sublime. As Miss Bible Belt, James Roberts IV has the perfect religious zeal and powerful voice to turn his solo number into a huge crowd pleaser. Michael LaMasa is Miss Great Plains and his dramatic monologue about "the land" is so stunningly bad but delivered with such verve that it is superb. David Vogel has a great ventriloquist number as Miss Deep South and delivers it with stellar comedic chops. As Miss Industrial Northeast, Eddie Maldonado may have the most stereotypical character of the lot, but he delivers it with relish. He also appears as the previous year's winner and his adlibs during the voting are very funny. Tucker is perfectly dimwitted and clueless as the California girl who claims to have had many past lives. His interpretive dance about birth and being reborn is a comedic gem.
All six men have the comic and vocal chops to not only make their characters shine, with strong female characteristics, they also make each contestant someone you can root for to win. As the host of the competition, Jon Gentry displays the typical traits of a smarmy Las Vegas lounge lizard. The charm he brings to the show mirrors the love for beauty pageants that the creators display throughout the show. Gentry's small frame provides an added bit of fun, as many of the contestants are so tall they tower over him.
Geoffrey Eroe's impressive set design and the evocative lighting from Dan Efros, when combined with the large ABT space, allow for the production to have the look and feel of an actual beauty pageant, something you wouldn't get in a smaller Off-Broadway venue. The costumes by Josh Lutton and Lottie Dixon include several stunning designs for the "ladies" as well as some that play up the comical elements of the show. Amanda Gran's wigs are stunners that are pageant perfect. Lizzie Hatfield's music direction achieves some lovely sounds from the cast and the four piece band, while the sound design by Joshua Tobin is crisp and clear.
One of the most impressive things about Pageant is that, while the conceit of having men portray the competitors adds to the hilarity of the show, the musical doesn't turn the whole affair into an over the top, campy, drag show. Instead, it mocks and pokes fun at the zany nature of the beauty pageant business but does so with a huge dollop of love. ABT's cast is excellent and the direction and creative elements are top notch. The fierceness that the six opponents exhibit as they fight for the crown of Miss Glamouresse only makes it that much funnier.
Pageant runs through September 18th, 2016, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at www.azbroadway.org or by calling 623 776-8400.
Conceived by Robert Longbottom
Cast: (in Alphabetical Order):
*Actor appears through the courtesy of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States