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Pageant: The Beauty Pageant Musical

From the fluffy curtains to the large G hovering over the faux marble floor, everything’s an ardent pink — the signature color of Glamouresse, whose beauty products include an aerosol that protects the ozone layer and an edible lipstick that provides “color and calories.”

The corporation also sponsors the to-die-for beauty pageant, Miss Glamouresse. Contestants come from all over: Miss Texas, Miss Deep South (who longs for antebellum days), Miss Great Plains, Miss Industrial Northeast, Miss West Coast, and Miss Bible Belt (where “God spreads love with his mighty sword”).

This year’s pageant’s at Cygnet Theatre. So, as M.C. Frankie Cavalier shouts with glee: “Let the beauty begin!”

Pageant satirizes beauty contests with a twist — actually, two. The winner isn’t predetermined. The six contestants vie for the title in several categories (among them doing commercials for Glamouresse products). Five judges, selected from the audience for every show, cast numerical votes.

The second twist: the six performers are men in drag. Which takes time to realize, since their terrific wigs and make-up (by Peter Herman) and swanky costumes (Shirley Pierson) lead the eye to believe otherwise. And do double-takes, in some cases.

After a while, and probably like watching boys play women on Shakespeare’s stage, who’s playing whom fades away. The six competitors work hard to succeed.

What emerges instead is the endless, idiotic steeplechase women must run to achieve an impossible stereotype of “beauty.”

There’s even a third twist, come to think of it. Each contestant actively plays the stereotype for her/his region, then breaks out of it. Miss West Coast (Luke Harvey Jacobs) has only smog-thick air between the ears — room for her 12 past lives? Miss Industrial Northeast (Max Cadillac) does an unexpected accordion solo. And Miss Bible Belt (Ryan Fahey) lectures on economics and asks, “If God gave you manna in the wilderness, would you say ‘I’m on a diet’?”

Charles Osborne’s Miss Texas does a tap dance (and, a highlight: almost loses his/her wig — keep it in!). And David McBean’s Miss Deep South is at once Blanche DuBois and a hilarious puppeteer in a sing-out-war with his creations.

Phil Johnson gets to play a stereotype too. A wide, funhouse smile ever in place, his Glitter Gulch outfits gaudy enough for Elvis, Johnson’s Frankie Cavalier is a hoot as the man who, once a year, goes to M.C. Heaven.

Pageant verges on being a one-note show. The set pieces, by Bill Russell and Frank Kelly, are uneven. Some continue after the point’s been made. They often depend on the performer to make them go. Johnson’s songs, one-liners, and breathless awe of his task keep things moving throughout.

So do James Vasquez’s precise direction and choreography, Michael McKeon’s appropriately goofy props (among them the world’s largest tube of lipstick), and a game cast doing silly things with admirable sincerity — and not an ounce of parody.


Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs Street, Old Town, playing through August 31.

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