After a sold-out benefit run for BC/EFA this February, Pageant – The Musical returns for a limited Off-Broadway engagement at The Davenport Theatre beginning June 29 with an official opening scheduled for July 14.
Like every beauty pageant you’ve seen before, Pageant features contestants desperately vying for a glittering tiara. With swimsuit, talent, and evening gown competitions—the show includes both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. But unlike beauty pageants you’ve seen before, the female contestants are all played by men and the audience gets to select the winner each night. Let the beauty begin!
The cast of tiara-crazed beauties includes Nick Cearley (“The Skivvies”), Frankie J. Grande (Mamma Mia), Alex Ringler (West Side Story), Marty Thomas (Wicked, Xanadu), Seth Tucker (Our Kiki), Curtis Wiley (Motown), and Emmy Award-winner Kevin Meaney (Hairspray, “Uncle Buck”) as the host.
Pageant has book and lyrics by two-time Tony nominee Bill Russell (Side Show, The Last Smoker in America) and Frank Kelly with music by Albert Evans and was conceived by Robert Longbottom. Matt Lenz directs, with choreography by Shea Sullivan, music supervision by Mark Hartman, music direction by Micah Young, scenic design by Paul Tate DePoo III, costumes by Stephen Yearick, lighting by Paul Miller, sound by David Sanderson, and casting by Duncan Stewart and Company.
Pageant debuted Off-Broadway in 1991 at the Blue Angel in New York where it ran for more than a year before playing successful engagements on the West End and around the world. Pageant was last seen this February in a sold-out five-show special engagement that benefitted Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS at the Red Lacquer Club, which was the first time it had returned to the New York stage in more than twenty years.
Take the jump for an exclusive interview with co-creator Bill Russell!
The Broadway Blog had the chance to ask co-creator Bill Russell a few questions about the show and how it’s relevant for a new generation of theatergoers.
BB: What was the inspiration for writing Pageant back in 1991?
Bill: Actually the inspiration came in the mid-80s from a group of guys who had been touring in the national company of 42nd Street. Several of them were friends, including Bobby Longbottom who directed the original production. They’d been touring for a couple years, were bored and decided to put on a pageant for their fellow company members.
Bobby sent me a video of the “Miss Bradford Hotel Pageant” they did in Boston. When he pitched the idea I thought, “I’m not really into drag and pageants have been satirized to death” but the video made me laugh and laugh, partly because the cast of Broadway gypsies was so much more talented than most actual pageant contestants. Their pageant had been thrown together. They had one big production number to “I Enjoy Being a Girl.” The characters were state winners and had names like “Kitty Litter.” Frank Kelly, Albert Evans and I came on board and with Bobby shaped it into the show it is now – writing an original score for this event sponsored by a cosmetics company – Glamouresse – and featuring regional winners.
BB: The world of drag has taken on a life of its own since the show’s creation, why do you think this show still resonates with audiences?
Bill: We don’t think of this as “drag”—more like transgender acting artistry. We ask these guys to play real women (kooky though they are) and not to comment in their performances on the fact they’re men—which is more how I think of “drag.” Though pageants seemed sort of passé even when we started writing in the mid-80s, the form is something everyone understands and has proven to be resilient.
The contestants are regional winners (Misses Deep South, West Coast, Great Plains, Bible Belt, Industrial Northeast and Texas) and we have fun with those stereotypes. There’s not a blue word in the show and everyone from children to their great-grandmothers can enjoy it.
BB: Have you and Frank revisited the original material or made any changes for this production?
Bill: Surprisingly few. We’ve updated some references – for instance, Miss West Coast was originally “an est graduate.” Now, she was “introduced to Scientology by Kirstie Alley.” Five judges are picked from the audience and introduced with fake bios, so we have fun keeping those current.
BB: Which contestant do you most identify with and why?
Bill: I’d have to say Miss Great Plains – Bonnie Louise Cutlett. I grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota and attended college in Iowa and Kansas. Bonnie is the salt of the earth with a big heart, unlike some of those other witches.
Pageant – The Musical
The Davenport Theatre
354 West 45th Street
Through September 1, 2014
A limited number of rush tickets, which are subject to availability, can be purchased at the box office of The Davenport Theatre for the day of the performance on a first-come-first-served basis starting two (2) hours prior to performances. Rush tickets are $29.50 each and limited to two (2) tickets per customer. Cash only.