By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
For my money, Miss Great Plains was robbed. At each performance of Pageant: The Musical, on now at Uptown Players at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, the same six contestants vie to be named Miss Glamouresse. The winner is picked by a panel of judges selected from the audience. Opening night judges included the real Miss Texas 2013, Ivana Hall, sporting a sparkly tiara and shiny gold cowboy boots. She and the others went for Miss Texas, Kitty-Bob Ames (played by Walter Lee), a leggy beauty with a megawatt smile. So wrong!
Clearly, dimpled cutie Bonnie Louise Cutlett, aka Miss Great Plains (Micah Green), deserved the crown. Her talent, a dramatic original monologue called "I Am the Land," which began with the line "I am a handful of dirt," was deeply moving, though it didn't go over quite as well as the patriotic tap-and-baton number by Miss Texas or the Martha Graham-like dance solo called "The Seven Ages of Me" by Karma Quinn, Miss West Coast (Drew Kelly). But dadgum it, Bonnie Louise just seemed to want it so badly.
Next year is your year, Bonnie Louise Cutlett. Or maybe it's tomorrow. Depending on how those audience judges vote, the outcome of Pageant changes nightly. (Miss Texas is a frequent favorite but we hear she's funnier when she loses.)
Continues through April 13 at Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. Tickets, $25-$40, are available at 214-219-2718.
Pageant: The Musical has been around for more than 20 years (this is the second time Uptown's done it), but since it's as tacky-ridiculous as every real beauty contest — excuse me, scholarship pageant — it's still funny as hell. With book and lyrics by Bill Russell and Frank Kelly, music by Albert Evans, the show unfolds with the brand of low-tier glitz and glam typically seen late nights on cable access. In Iowa.
The host and master of ceremonies is Boehner-bronzed Frankie Cavalier (B.J. Cleveland), lurching sweatily around the stage in a tight tux, hair sprayed into a Gibraltar-shaped wedge. Singing "Natural Born Females," he unctuously introduces the lovelies, mentioning that they each bring a little something extra to the contest. That they do, tucked and taped down there and pushed and puffed up there to make them look like pretty, pretty ladies. Suck it, RuPaul, the guy-als in Pageant have a full lap on any contestants on Drag Race.
Directed at Uptown by Chris Robinson, who wisely allows Cleveland plenty of leeway for ad libs, Pageant mocks the comically kitschy, seriously demeaning elements of real pageants by exaggerating what's required to win them. Besides the talent portion — and be assured that Miss Industrial Northeast, Consuela Manuela Rafaella Lopez (Sergio Antonio Garcia), does look like Snooki even while roller-skating and playing the accordion — the contestants have to show off their figures in evening gowns and swimwear while wearing stilettos. They also do "spokesmodeling" for Glamouresse products such as Smooth-as-Marble Facial Spackle and an edible lipstick called Lip Snack, and they offer on-the-spot "crisis beauty counseling" to callers on a 24-hour hotline. The second act production number is a Guffman-like trip to outer space called "Gotta Be Venus."
In this production, the real show-stopper (and sorest loser) is Ruth Anne Ruth, Miss Bible Belt (Ashton McKay Shawver, who played Suzanne Sugarbaker in Uptown's all-male Designing Women spoof). She belts "Banking on Jesus," a foot-stomping tune in support of the prosperity gospel. Miss Ruth, a Bob Jones University student majoring in "the Book of Lamentations," works herself into a Holy Ghostly frenzy to the point of speaking in tongues: "Lashonda lashonda, Lupita Nyong'o!" Then she finishes with a flourish on handbells. Brilliant.
Miss Deep South, Laurinda Summerfield (Peter DiCesare), is a dainty thing who dons Scarlett O'Hara's green and white barbecue-at-the-Wilkes-plantation hoop skirt and launches into a wacky ventriloquism act. Beauty pageant ventriloquism is one of the greatest milestones in American culture, right up there with pageant contestants who play the flute while smiling and toe-dance in tutus to Scott Joplin songs. If you haven't seen the YouTube video of the white Miss Arkansas 1994 murdering "And I'm Telling You (I'm Not Going)," stop reading and find it immediately.
None of this would go over half so well if the "girls" on the Kalita stage didn't play it absolutely straight. Cleveland's the only one winking at the drag angle. The rest of the cast members glide and gleam like they've been on the pageant circuit since they were Honey Boo Boo's age.
Costumer Suzi Cranford hasn't skimped on the sequins and voile in the show's spectacular array of gowns. Wig master Coy Covington, who appears in glam drag in Uptown's annual Broadway Our Way revue, has created hairpieces just right for each character. Miss Great Plains' hairdo is a prim brown helmet. Miss West Coast peeps out from under a tumble of shiny yellow tresses.
Set designer Dennis Canright captures the look of a second-rate pageant stage by keeping the colors a shade off of good taste and lining the edges of each step and platform with sparkly lights.
Musical director Kevin Gunther plays keyboards and leads a bouncy four-piece offstage band. If Cleveland sometimes sings a hair away from the right key or the correct melody, it only adds to the cheese factor. Bert Parks wasn't exactly Sinatra now, was he?