May 12, 2010

Theater: Pandora's ‘Pageant’ is no drag

Pageant
Presented by Pandora Productions. Directed by Steven Jones. Continues through May 16 at the Bunbury Theatre at the Henry Clay Building, 604 S. Third St. For tickets or more info, call 216-5502 or go to www.pandoraprods.org.

It’s hard to believe “Pageant,” the droll, drag beauty pageant parody that Pandora Productions is staging at the Henry Clay through this weekend, first hit the stage some 20 years ago. Conceived by Robert Longbottom and co-authored by Albert Evans (music), Bill Russell and Frank Kelly (book and lyrics) (the same creative trio who came up with the legendary “Texas Chainsaw Musical”), “Pageant” has the sort of escapist, timeless appeal that suggests it ought to be playing on some stage, somewhere, all the time.

And if every production is as vibrant and fun as Pandora’s, directed by Steven Jones, with music by Gayle King, sets by Karl Anderson, choreography by Christephor Gilbert, a zany assortment of props by Karissa Singleton, and costumes — oh, those costumes! — by Christi Johnson, you might happily wind up attending all the performances, like those throngs of folks who used to sit through hundreds of showings of “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

All the conventional beauty pageant elements are here. A group of six semi-finalists, competing for the prize Miss Glamouresse, are introduced by unctuous host Frankie Cavalier (Brent Gettelfinger, whose plastic smile seems to channel the iconic Bert Parks), who announces that the contestants, who are put through their competitive paces in talent competitions, spokesmodel demos, answering questions from a “beauty crisis hot line,” and an evening gown judging (alas, no swimsuits), are all “natural born women.” And thanks to inspired cosmetics, coiffure and superb acting, that illusion is near perfect; but as a big production number gleefully suggests, these are women with, “Something Extra.” And by the end, when a group of randomly selected audience members choose the winner, that certainly seems true.

“Pageant” doesn’t waste time on back-stories and plot lines. Everything you need to know about Miss Deep South (Alex Craig) is summed up in the fact that her hobbies are home economics and cancer research — and that when she offers “A Salute to Dixie,” the Dixie in question is Dixie Carter.

Who’s the funniest — oops, I mean, “most talented” — in this group? That’s hard to say. Is it Bonnie Louise Cutlett, Miss Great Plains (Brad Lambert), whose dramatic recitation, “I Am the Land,” is a blend of provocative gestures and grandiloquent language (I am a thousand acres of virgin land)? Or is it Miss Bible Belt (Michael J. Drury), who demonstrates how to apply Glamouresse “facial spackle” to cover those unsightly pores and clefts? Or perhaps it’s Miss Industrial Northeast (Aaron Childress), who roller-skates across the stage while playing the accordion. It might be Miss Texas (Christephor Gilbert), who once held the title “Miss Petroleum Byproduct.” Or even Miss West Coast (Gerald Robertson), as ditzy a dame as the pageant world has ever seen. It might even be Kiel Dodd, who plays Frankie Cavalier’s hapless assistant with utter abandon.

For sure, this year’s contestants have a lot to live up to: Last year’s Miss Glamouresse (Tony Vincent) is on hand to crown the new queen. She’s spent her reign attending more than a few buffets, she says, and a more sweeping, majestic sculpted beauty queen is beyond imagination.