’Pageant’: A Beauty Of A Show Returns
"And the winner is..."
While we’ve been hearing these words a lot these past few weeks, they take on a whole new meaning in "Pageant," the hit 1991 Off-Broadway musical by Bill Russell, Frank Kelly, and Albert Evans, which will be receiving its first revival on Feb. 3, 10, 17, and 24 at the Red Lacquer Club at Lucky Cheng’s (240 West 52nd Street). All the shows will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
"We are so excited to be bringing this piece back, and so is the entire community" says director Matt Lenz. "Those of us old enough to have seen it the first time loved it and remember peeing their pants because of how funny it was, and those who didn’t get to see it back then have this anticipatory excitement. And what’s really wonderful is that the material holds up like a Buick. It is so solid -- and still genuinely funny."
As the show’s title suggests, it takes place at a beauty pageant. But here, the six "female" contestants, who compete in such categories as swimsuit, talent, and evening gown, are actually played by men. And putting together the perfect group of wannabe winners -- to be played by Nick Cearley ("The Skivvies"), Tom Deckman ("Spamalot"), Frankie James Grande ("Mamma Mia"), Douglas Lyons ("Beautiful"), Alex Ringler ("West Side Story"), and Marty Thomas ("Xanadu") -- was one of the most important elements in Lenz’s remounting of the show.
"We were originally gearing up for a full production at New World Stages, so we did a lot of auditions during the summer, although we ended up with a somewhat different cast than we first anticipated," says Lenz. "The first thing we realized is to be cast you have to be funny. This material is hilarious, but it needs actors like Brad Oscar (who plays the pageant’s host) who have real comic finesse, not an in-your-face attack style."
As for the six guys who will strut their stuff onstage, there’s a reason you don’t see any of New York’s well-known drag queens on the cast list. "There really is a difference between a man playing a woman and a man doing drag," says Lenz. "A lot of people came in to audition who had that drag persona, and who do that marvelously. However, we wanted people who not only had a lighter comic touch, but who could be believable in sections like the spokesmodel moments. They have their own naivete. What makes this show work is its simplicity. It has to feel like a real beauty pageant."
All of this isn’t to discount the actors’ appearance, admits Lenz. "Of course, the guys also have to look great in heels, have great legs, and look good in a dress. But we realized there was no reason that in New York City we couldn’t find guys who could do all that and be great comedians as well."
In many ways, the show will be the same as it was in 1991, although Russell and Evans have been working on tweaking the script to include some more topical references. Still, one significant change is in store. "The fact that the audience gets to choose the winner every night through is still part of the fun," says Lenz. "But we want to include some sort of electronic element, like texting. However, we’re still working out all the details."
The bottom line, says Lenz, is that everyone - from the cast and crew to the audience - is in for a really great evening. "We’re just giddy," he says. "We want to make this a big party."
General admission is $20, with preferred seating available for $45 and VIP packages (including a photo op and meet-and-greet with the cast) available for $100. All levels of admission require a two-drink minimum on top of the cover charge. Tickets can be purchased online at Brown Paper Tickets.