Book & Lyrics: Bill Russell and Frank Kelly
Music: Albert Evans
Director Bill Rusell
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
One of the many ways that you can divide up the world is into pre- and post-Miss Congeniality, and for lovers of Miss World-style competitions and beauty pageants, this film from 2000 revelled in its snarling contestants and bitter has-beens, that has shaped our view of such displays ever since.
Bill Russell, Frank Kelly and Albert Evans’ 1991 musical Pageant, revived at the London Irish Centre, is clearly pre-Gracie Hart, where its biggest shock is that all the contestants are drag queens.
At the annual Miss Glamouresse beauty competition, six very different women from across America have made it to the semi-final where they must compete in six individual rounds in order to win the much-coveted crown. Host Frankie Cavilier guides the hopefuls through Evening Gowns, Talent, Swimsuits, Physical Fitness, Beauty Crisis Counselling and being a Spokesmodel before five judges chosen from the audience make their final decision.
This revival of Pageant is starting to show its age, and without a plot to speak off, this two-hour production becomes a virtually one-note revue-style show with recurring characters. Once the audience has met each of the women, noted that they’re really men, and understood the particular joke associated with each one there’s very little else to sustain it. Miss West Coast is a ditzy Barbie with a new age sensibility, Miss Bible Belt promotes her religion, Miss Great Plains is the awkward uncoordinated one and so on and so on.
During the first half the show becomes quite repetitive as we watch six performances in each round and while there some fun moments – including Miss Great Plains dramatic monologue about the
earth, and Miss Deep South’s bizarre puppet show in the Talent round – there’s little drama or high stakes bitchiness among the contestants to keep it interesting.
The pace does pick up after the interval and the dance routine to ‘Girl Power’ as part of the Physical Fitness round is energetic and amusing, but the overall approach to lampooning the sexist
ridiculousness of beauty pageants feels too meek. And a 9pm start for a full-length musical just adds to the overly-drawn out nature of the show.
Most of the problems here reside in the material rather than the performances, however, and Adam O’Shea (Miss Deep South), John McManus (Miss Bible Belt), Jonni Gatenby (Miss Texas), Kevin
Grogan (Miss West Coast), Alex Anstey (Miss Great Plains), Nic Chiappetta (Miss Industrial Northeast) and Miles Western (Frankie Cavillier) bring individual personality and showmanship to their
roles, with plenty of forced smiles and cheesy charm.
Tim Austin’s set and Lauren Natasha Hall’s costumes bring just the right amount of game show glitz, managing to look both faux glamorous and entirely shoddy at the same time, which feels like the perfect combination. There are some good song and dance numbers, and the audience-judges’ marking proved enjoyably controversial, but in a world where a disgraced FBI agent can go
undercover to prevent a major attack, Pageant is really showing its age – and no amount of Glamouresse face cream can hide these wrinkles.
Runs until 26 August 2017 | Image: Tim Austin