The existence of pop culture entertainment like Toddlers and Tiaras and Drop Dead Gorgeous confirms that the wacky, tacky world of pageants has a weird hold over us all.
Uptown Players, knowing a hit when it has one, has brought back its outrageously funny production of Pageant, which was last staged by the company to great acclaim in 2006. This play-with-music lovingly skewers all the pageant tropes—ditzy answers, backbiting contestants, bizarre talents—without turning bitchy, making it two hours of guilt-free fun.
B.J. Cleveland, gelled and spangled like a softer version of Stanley Tucci’s character from The Hunger Games, steers the evening from opening number to evening gown parade to swimsuit competition with the finesse befitting the Miss Glamouresse pageant. His contestants, lovely in their flowing chiffon and five o’clock shadows, aren’t just paragons of beauty. They all have, as he reminds us, “something extra”—and he’s not referring to their smarts.
Director Chris Robinson encourages his cast to go big or go home, which helps turn a rather thin and at times tiresome script (by Bill Russell and Frank Kelly, with Muzak—er, music by Albert Evans) into a raucously good time. The gals vying for the crown are subjected to the audience’s voting process each night, with scripted endings for each outcome. So far, however, one contestant is enjoying a winning streak: the as-yet undefeated Miss Texas (Walter Lee).
Earning the approval of both the real Miss Texas and Miss Dallas, who were in attendance on opening weekend, Lee is as poised and perfect a beauty queen as one could hope for. A high-kicking, baton-twirling tap-dance number—complete with lassoing and shooting skills—does Big D proud.
Not that the other contestants are anything to sneeze at. Miss Industrial Northeast, played with Latina sass and a comically undecipherable New Joisey accent by Sergio Antonio Garcia, displays remarkable balance by playing the accordion while twirling around on roller skates. Proving his worthiness should Avenue Q ever be revived around town, Peter DiCesare gets belly laughs by lending a deep Southern drawl to a pair of bickering puppets, all the while dressed as Scarlett O’Hara (Suzi Cranford’s costumes and Coy Covington’s wigs are a delight).
Drew Kelly takes what could have been the most tiresome stereotype, a spacey California blonde, and makes her inanity endearing. Doing an interpretative dance number while swathed in a blue Lycra cocoon doesn’t hurt either.
Miss Great Plains (Micah Green) earns most of the show’s laughs from her earnestly bland actions and believably baffled reactions. A fiery Miss Bible Belt, played to the buxom hilt by Ashton McKay Shawver, shows early on that she’s here to win.
Though the girls turn their backs during the voting process, gossip always finds a way. So go ahead and don a tiara if you want. You certainly won’t be alone, but you should be on the lookout in case a jilted contestant swipes your sparkle in the lobby.