The cast of ‘Pageant: The Musical’. Pictured (front l to r): Robbie Jaeger, Billy Ensley and Devin Nystrom. (back l to r): Alex Aguilar, Ryan Deal, Gray Rikard, Matt Kenyon and Clay Smith.
Let’s face it: Beauty pageants are a joke. Some would even argue such contests are sexist. They are, perhaps, among humanity’s basest forms of “talent” and entertainment. Women from across the country (or world, for those global contests) glam themselves up and try their damndest to mold themselves to some extraordinary, mostly unachievable model of “beauty.” A winner’s reward? A fab crown and some flowers, maybe some money if you’re lucky, a year’s worth of “community service” and the lust of millions of strange men you’ve never met (or would ever want to meet).
Fortunately for us sane folks, we can indulge in “Pageant: The Musical,” a hilarious and satirical spoof on this strange, albeit popular, world of beauty pageantry. Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte will stage the show in January.
The musical itself has been providing laughter to audiences since its debut in 1991, being performed in cities across the world — most recently in Atlanta. January’s rendition of the musical is Charlotte’s second staging of “Pageant,” which premiered here five years ago. Three of the cast and crew from 2005’s performance, including director Stuart Williams, have returned for Actor’s Theatre’s version.
The story brings together six beauty pageant contestants: Miss Bible Belt, Miss Deep South, Miss Great Plains, Miss Industrial Northeast, Miss Texas and Miss West Coast. Each contestant, however, is played not by a stereotypical beauty queen, but rather by men. It’s certainly an easy set-up for humor and campy fun.
Williams, who has performed in the show three times, admits the musical is campy and that its original intent was to show the ridiculousness of beauty pageants. Yet, he and other cast members agree the show might have relay other meanings, allowing audience members to take a deeper look into the objectification of women, the divisions communities create among themselves and how people often treat each other when faced with competition and approval.
Getting to that underlying message, however, can be difficult.
Competing for the aptly-named title of “Miss Glamouresse,” each of the contestants must prove their “skills” and “talents” in various rounds including a “Spokesperson” competition, fitness, evening wear and swimsuits and general talent. At the end of the show, a panel of four audience members chosen randomly at the beginning of the show judge the contestants and decide on a winner.
Though the show is completely scripted — including each of six possible endings — Williams says many audience members who’ve never seen it mistake the musical for a real drag pageant. Despite the inevitable, erroneous perceptions, only one member of this rendition’s cast has ever performed professionally in drag. Clay Smith, known to many as Roxy C. Moorecox, says he’s shared some of his “trade secrets” with other cast members. Though their repertoires lack drag performance, each say they’re up to the task.
Williams cautions, however, that the show isn’t about drag. He says the musical’s authors “made it very clear” that having six actors in drag would never produce a successful show.
“You have to pick actors who could make you believe they are women,” Williams says. “Any drag performer who is successful can make you believe they are this persona. What’s most important is that they not only had to learn the lines and dances and moves but they are actually having to portray women very much along the lines of Tootsie or Miss Doubtfire and be convincible. You can’t just throw the clothes on and think that’s enough to pull off the show.”
Among the show’s best qualities, cast members say, is its interactivity and unpredictability. Because the four judges are chosen from the audience each night, the show can end differently every time it’s performed.
Actor Devin Nystrom, who plays sassy Miss Deep South, says that built-in flexibility keeps the show fresh. “It never becomes stale for us,” he says.
Though the show isn’t new and has been performed in Charlotte before, Williams says he expects this performance will go over well. Williams says Actor’s Theatre’s rendition has been provided better resources, more advertising and publicity and a cast that is “more comfortable in their own skin.”
“Pageant: The Musical” opens at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte on Jan. 6 and runs through Jan. 22. Tickets, on sale now, are available by phone, at 704-342-2251 ext. 21 or online at actorstheatrecharlotte.org. : :