If you are looking for some breezy summer fun, you won’t find more appealing entertainment than “Pageant,” the uproariously funny musical now playing at Sierra Repertory’s East Sonora Theater.
Written by Bill Russell and Frank Kelly, the play first made its debut off-Broadway in 1991, and it is still surprisingly fresh. Conceived as a spoof of beauty pageants, “Pageant” also pokes fun at a culture that seeks a quick fix for every beauty “impairment.”
The play presents six beauty contestants vying for the title of Miss Glamouresse, the shameless cosmetics company that sponsors the pageant. The contestants are from several different segments of the country, and each demonstrates their regional pride in a singular fashion.
And, as a special twist, all of the female contestants are played by men. But, the male cast members are so skillful at finding their feminine side, and so superbly coiffed and costumed, you may find your self forgetting that they are not really women.
The cast features Griffin Barr as Miss Bible Belt, Matt Mitchell as Miss Deep South, Clint Hromsco as Miss Great Plains, Enrique Vega as Miss Industrial Northeast, Adam Estes as Miss Texas, and Craig First as Miss West Coast. Frankie Cavalier, the cheeky but likable emcee, is played by David Johnson.
Director and choreographer Russell Garrett has prior experience with the play, having appeared in the original off-Broadway run. His affection for the material is evident in how he approaches the production and guides the performances. His job is made easier by a group of talented actors who brim with comic energy and bring something unique to each of their characterizations.
The fun really gets into high gear during the talent portion of the show when the audience is treated to a Western style tap dance by Estes’ audacious Miss Texas, an earthy dramatic presentation by Hromsco’s ingratiating Miss Great Plains, an accordion solo performed on roller skates by Vega’s feisty Miss Industrial Northeast, a tribute to Dixie delivered in a laconic Southern drawl by Mitchell’s charming Miss Deep South, a kaleidoscopic new age dance performed by First’s nimble Miss West Coast, and a rousing musical number, combining finance and religion, belted out by Barr’s exuberant Miss Bible Belt.
As the flawlessly frenetic emcee, Johnson keeps the play crisply moving along, while keeping the focus on the contestants. Each beauty must promote an over the top Glamouresse product ranging from an edible Lip Snack to Facial Spackle for super enlarged pores. These presentations provide some of the humorous highlights of the play. Even when they veer into silliness, such as the unveiling of “Largesse,” an industrial sized spray bottle of cologne for the full-figured woman, the antics are just so good-natured that the audience can’t help but applaud these characters and wish them well.
In another innovation, several judges are selected from the audience and are asked to select a “winner” at the end of the play. The judging was far funnier and more suspenseful than anticipated. Since there will be different judges for each performance, there is the likelihood that different contestants might have their turn at being the winner. Seeing the overwrought reactions of those who were not selected adds even more fun to the proceedings.
The glitzy, color saturated set by Michael Kramer and the intense lighting by Mike Sali provided the perfect backdrop for the onstage processions and the musical numbers. Wig master Peter Matthew did a formidable job creating the striking hairdos. The musical direction by Benjamin Van Diepen and the sound design by Ty Smith created just the right atmosphere for the production. And special kudos goes to Diana Newington for her spectacular costumes, which through myriad costume changes, perfectly reflected the personalities of the individual actors.
This clever, lighthearted production succeeds by delighting and surprising. With its engaging performances and novel elements, “Pageant” provides an excellent summer diversion. Judging by their laughter and responses, the audience on opening night seemed to be having a wonderful time. “Pageant” runs through Sunday, Aug. 19. For tickets and showtimes, visit sierrarep.org or call (209) 532-3120.