Pageant, London Irish Centre

The Pageant host and his contestants.

Pageant is a revival of a musical first performed off-Broadway in 1991, and it’s telling that this drag satire on the culture of women as decoration still feels biting 26 years later. The professional nature of this production (it was revived off-Broadway in 2014 initially) is obvious by the calibre of the performers, who are confident, charismatic, hilarious and can really sing.

The musical, as the title suggests, is based around the ‘Glamouress’ pagent, hosted by a perma-grinning Frankie Cavilier, who takes us through a litany of songs, both as a group and from each contestant, along with the hawking of Glamouress’ ridiculous products from each contestant in turn. The winner is chosen by a panel of judges chosen by Frankie, using number ratings.

Miles Western proved to be an extremely capable host as Frankie, providing excellent support to the drag performances. He wouldn’t look out-of-place in a Las Vegas show and Ryan Seacrest would be very jealous of his stage command. The underlying satire of the beauty industry was very well skewered by Miss Bible Belt (John McManus), who proved beyond doubt that her real object of worship was the Holy Dollar, and it’s no surprise that she ended up as the audience favourite that night. A more traditional beauty pageant stereotype was provided by Miss Deep South (Adam O’Shea), who had a fantastically dream-like expression at rest. Given Adam O’Shea’s enviable muscular definition, it’s no mean feat to successfully convince as an old-school pageant contestant, so I was particularly impressed!

Frankie and the girls
Frankie and the girls

Miss West Coast (Kevin Grogan), brought the more unorthodox trends of California with her, although, reassuringly, none of the deep thought. Grogan’s talent for physical comedy gave a pleasingly chaotic feel to his dim, well-intentioned Valley Girl, who provided a stark contrast to the determined, grasping Miss Texas (Jonni Gatenby), who came from a rich family and clearly considered that an achievement worthy of victory. Jonni’s vicious performance was a joy.

In contrast to the above, Miss Great Plains (Alex Anstey) was a plump country girl trying to make it in a cruel world, with her vulnerability providing some more interesting chuckles, especially with an extraordinary song about ecological issues which reminded me strongly of Rik, the Peoples’ Poet from The Young Ones. Another striking alternative was Miss Industrial Northeast (Nic Chiappetta), a Hispanic receptionist whose lack of roller skating ability wasn’t going to stop her ambitious routine, and who won my affection with a striking grin throughout. Nic also played Miss Glamouress 2016, whose brash New Jersey informality and weight gain from all her dinner engagements was a hilarious foil to the contestants’ hungry lust for the 2017 title.

Miss Glamouress 2016 bows out with a group song
Miss Glamouress 2016 bows out with a group song

Pageant is a slick, funny production which transcended its more informal staging at the London Irish Centre, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes their comedy with a biting satirical kick. I regard it as something of a bargain on the Camden Fringe.

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