FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Director Randl Ask plays ball with some of the "girls" in "Pageant" -- Chad Lovell, left, and Don Richards. The ensemble cast clearly has fun with the offbeat plot.
Gender-bending pageantry succeeds
AN ESSENTIAL element of good comedy is never doing anything longer than it takes to get the laugh. Randl Ask and a talented ensemble cast observe that rule with rare success in Manoa Valley Theatre's revival of "Pageant."
Ask brings impeccable credentials to the task of director: He was a member of the group that developed the original script and played Miss Bible Belt in the original Off-Broadway production in 1990.
"Pageant," presented by Manoa Valley Theatre, continues at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through July 30. Tickets are $30. Call 988-6131 or visit www.manoavalleytheatre.com.|
Be prepared for a musical satire of entry-level beauty contests. This one is sponsored by Glamouresse Cosmetics, and includes a test of each contestant's ability to pitch products such as "face spackle" and roast beef-flavored lipstick.
The proceedings are beautifully spiced with an assortment of non-sequiters, malapropisms and comments that may reveal more about where the contestants are coming from than a real-life contestant would ever want to reveal. The winner of the previous pageant is greeted with the comment that "Even the most beautiful flower must die." One of the contestants exclaims that a pretty face isn't everything because, "True beauty is found beneath your dress!"
Did I mention that the entire cast is male?
The best thing about that last comic device is that none of the six talented actors who play the contestants ever lapse into the local "mahu" style character types so prominent in Lisa Matsumoto's pidgin fairytales. Nor do they play the exaggerated female types often seen in drag shows. These guys play the women "straight," and although the characters are comical, the gender of the performers is never an issue.
And so we watch six eager women vying for the title of "Miss Glamouresse 2006" through all the familiar stages of pageant competition.
Daniel James Kunkel (Miss Deep South), Chad Kanui Lovell (Miss West Coast), Colin Miyamoto (Miss Bible Belt), Christopher Obenchain (Miss Great Plains) and Don Richards (Miss Texas) are all excellent in their debuts as "Pageant" cast members.
Miss Industrial Northeast (Michael K. Pa'ekukui) is the only contestant who doesn't make it to the final round; Pa'ekukui returns later as Tawny, last year's winner. The actor is reprising the dual roles he played in MVT's 1998 production, with equal success. But as he did in 1998, Pa'ekukui plays Tawny as a stereotypical "tita" and his stage pidgin detracts from an otherwise excellent show. It's hard to believe that Tawny was written as a "tita" in New York, and the pidgin is annoying rather than funny.
On the other hand, Keoki Kerr gives a career-best performance -- as a singer, dancer and actor -- with his portrayal of emcee Frankie Cavalier. Kerr leads several pageant-perfect numbers -- "Miss Glamouresse" and "It's Gotta Be Venus" are among standouts. His emcee is a perfect balance of charm and smarm that leaves no double entendre unexplored, but never sinks to smuttiness.
Ask's production team all deserve mention. Melina Lillios (musical director) and Jason Taglianetti (sound) are in sync throughout in ensuring that the performers can be heard clearly in even the biggest, loudest musical numbers. Brian Gilhooly (props) adds visual impact to many scenes with an assortment of items from hand puppets to feminine deodorant jewelry. Choreographer Andrew Sakaguchi embellishes the proceedings with routines that mimic conventional pageant choreography on some numbers and provide sight gags on others. Greg Howell (hair and makeup) is another major asset in making "Pageant" more than a generic drag show.
Cabaret seating is always problematic at MVT, and "Pageant" is no exception. The best view is available up front. Next best choice is the back row -- the only row that's on a riser rather than floor level.