That sort of "wink, wink; nudge, nudge" sense of humor is very much in the spirit of Pageant, currently wowing crowds at Le Petit. The show trumpets itself as "The Musical Comedy Beauty Contest" and -- if there's anyone out there who hasn't heard yet -- all the girls are boys.
Unlike My O My, which recently walked a lovely fine line through the same gender-bender territory, Pageant offers a double-dip of raucous and blatant fun. The contestants are Miss Industrial Northeast (Roy Haylock in his hot-tamale mode), Miss Texas (Patrick M. Mendelson), Miss Great Plains (Jimmy Murphy), Miss West Coast (Jesse Quigley), Miss Deep South (Matthew Ragas) and Miss Bible Belt (Bryan Wagar). Naturally, good looks are not the only criterion. In addition to strutting in gowns and bathing suits, the girls compete in categories like "Company Spokesperson." Each of the babes presents one of the Glamouresse products, like Lip Snack (lipstick-cum-candy bar), or Facial Spackle (trowel-on glop that fills cracks in the epidermis).
There is also the talent segment, where we get some scintillating displays of artistry, like Miss West Coast's interpretive dance "The Seven Stages of Me." Of course, some of the talent is more show biz. For instance, Miss Texas does a tap dance while riding a toy horse, and the intrepid Miss Northeast attempts to play her accordion on roller-skates. "Attempts" is the operative word, since the poor dear nearly plunges to her death several times.
Holding the show together is that ever-popular emcee, Frankie Cavalier (the chameleonic Bob Edes) with his two-tone tux, rakish little mustache and Elvis pompadour.
When it comes to production values, co-directors Derek Franklin and Sonny Borey take the high road. They enlisted no less than six of the city's notable costume designers: Roy Haylock, Carolyn Barrois, Cecile Casey Covert, Linda Fried, Charlotte Lang and Bob Bruce. The duds are sensational, though one could not help but wonder where the costumers got stiletto heels for all those dainty little feet.
David Walker and Derek Franklin take credit for the Glamourous Glamouresse set. A "brava" to Karen Hebert for the musical staging. This show, written by Bill Russell and Frank Kelly, is summertime silliness guaranteed to take your mind off the heat.
Speaking of summertime fun, Summer Lyric Theatre at Tulane recently kicked off its season with Candide. This is an oddball show. One doesn't even know quite what to call it. A musical comedy? An operetta? The collaborators were a stellar bunch, beginning with no less than Voltaire, who wrote the story to begin with. Lillian Hellman was originally credited with the book (although Hugh Wheeler is credited now). Poet Richard Wilbur and Dorothy Parker wrote the lyrics -- with an assist from Stephen Sondheim and John Latouche. And Maestro Leonard Bernstein wrote the music. Nonetheless, when Candide opened on Broadway in 1956, it ran only 73 performances. The show is not done that often, so it was a bold and welcome choice.
Basically, we follow the story of a young man named Candide (Kyle Malone) and the love of his life, Cunegonde (Melissa Marshall). Oh, there is one other person of utmost importance, the philosopher Pangloss (Ricky Graham), whose central teaching is that everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Unfortunately, this rosy doctrine becomes increasingly difficult to align with the conditions of life on the third planet of the sun. In fact, Candide and Cunegonde go through such a variety of hellish ordeals, they could give Job a lesson in suffering. There are wars, pirate raids, sexual slavery and so on and so forth -- though curiously (and somewhat confusingly) some of these ordeals seem to be magically undone, as though they had never really happened.
Nonetheless, the basic message is clear: It's impossible to maintain Pangloss' supremely optimistic view of life. In the end, Candide decides to forget about whether we live in the best of all possible worlds. He will just tend to his garden.
Under Michael Howard's direction, the show was bright, energetic, well-paced and well sung. Tip of the hat to the delightful Elizabeth Argus as the old woman and Samantha Gill and Joey Quigley as the other romantic leads.
For me, this musical oddity remains an oddity. But what a pleasure to have a chance to see it and to see it in such capable hands.
- Le Petit's cast of Pageant with Bob Edes at the center of attention doesn't drag down the notion of a boy in a dress.