It must have been Urban Tulsa Weekly's hilarious cover story ("Miss Not-So-Perfect USA" in the Aug. 12-18 issue) that inspired Theatre Tulsa's Pageant: The Musical, which continues its run this weekend at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. 2nd St. Then again, it's purely coincidental.
Written in 1991 by Bill Russell and Frank Kelly, with music composed by Albert Evans, and directed for Theatre Tulsa by Don Armstrong, Pageant spoofs traditional beauty pageants in a very untraditional way -- by putting men in gowns and having them compete for the audience's affection.
Yup, the contestants in Pageant are men, all dressed in drag and doing their female impersonations. And some of them are pretty darn good.
The story goes: Six contestants are competing in the Miss Glamouresse pageant, sponsored by the make-believe cosmetics company Glamouresse.
The pageant opens with a number that declares the contestants "natural born females" and pokes fun about their having "the right equipment" and being "naturally endowed."
Dimwitted and dainty, the contestants represent some of America's best regional stereotypes. Mike Pryor is Miss Deep South, a college coed who's double majoring in home economics and cancer research and organizes pro-life rallies in her spare time.
Robert Young is Miss Industrial Northeast, a Native American with Latin origins and no formal education who's studying hairstyling by mail and works as a receptionist at a women's correctional facility.
Brett Yeakey is Miss Bible Belt, an Oklahoma native who's majoring at Bob Jones University in business administration and the Book of Lamentations and hopes to spread the gospel through telemarketing.
Joel Swanson is Miss Great Plains, who was born in a barn in Iowa and breeds livestock.
Rusty Hockenberry is Miss West Coast, a sales rep at a spiritual counseling center who's been reincarnated 12 times and spends her spare time creating tie-dye fashions for Malibu Barbie.
Kris Farnsworth is Miss Texas, who takes tap dancing lessons at her Texas ranch by an instructor flown in from New York, has more money than God and works with the beauty-impaired in her spare time.
The pageant is emceed by Patrick Hobbs as Frankie Cavalier.
The contestants take turns competing in evening gown, talent, statement of personal beliefs, physical fitness and beauty crisis counseling competitions. They also compete in spokes model contests, representing Glamouresse products like Lip Snack, "color and calories in one attractive cylinder," Solar Rollers, an energy efficient hair-curling system, and Smooth-as-Marble Facial Spackle.
Although the musical is chock full of clever one-liners acknowledging and mocking the fact that it's pretty much an hour and a half of men parading around as women, the humor doesn't stop there. This show is genuinely funny, and that's primarily because the men in it are truly talented, and perfectly balanced between taking themselves too seriously and not seriously enough.
Sure, the whole thing's a joke, but if these guys didn't believe in and commit to the joke, then it wouldn't be funny. That they do, that the talent competition, for example, actually features some real talent -- Miss Texas isn't a bad tap dancer, and Miss Deep South is a pretty fantastic ventriloquist -- makes the show that much more fun to watch. Because the actors commit to it, the audience does.
At the end of the pageant, the judges -- six randomly chosen audience members -- select the winner, so the girl of the evening varies with each performance. What doesn't differ, though, is the good time had.
Pageant: The Musical runs Sept. 23-25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Tulsa PAC's Liddy Doenges Theatre. Tickets are $15, $10 for seniors, and available at tulsapac.com.
Also on Stage
This weekend, Sept. 24-25 and 28, Heller Theatre presents Mitch Albom's And the Winner Is. The comedy tells the story of Tyler Johnes, a self-obsessed movie star who is finally nominated for an Oscar but dies the night before the awards ceremony. Angry, he bargains with a heavenly gatekeeper to return to earth for the big night.
He drags his agent, his acting rival, his bombshell girlfriend and his ex-wife into the journey, in a "surprising tale of Hollywood, the afterlife and what it means to be 'judged on your performance.'"
The show's director, Frank Gallagher, said: "And the Winner Is touches many of the same ideas as Albom's previous books. Human relationships -- the ways we treat each other -- are at the center of Albom's vision of what makes life meaningful. Honesty, humility, and kindness are contrasted with a celebrity culture in which success is all that is valued."
Performances are Sept. 24-25, 28 and Oct. 1-2 at 7:30pm and Oct. 3 at 2pm at Henthorne Park, 4825 S. Quaker Ave. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for seniors and students, and reservations should be made by calling (918) 746-5065.
On Saturday, Sept. 25, the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. 4th St., presents the third annual Ms. Center of the Universe Pageant. Local beauty queen wannabes compete in a series of raunchy contests designed to poke fun of traditional pageants. Tickets are $8, and more information is available at nightingaletheater.com.
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