Oh dear. I’ve got some bad news for all the people who headed north for the dubious delights of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August…
Whilst you were away the funniest, sexiest, campest show since La Cage aux Folles landed like a gloriously unexpected glitter-bomb in The London Irish Centre, as part of the Camden Festival; though if there was any justice in the world it would already be firmly ensconced in the heart of the West End.
Pageant originally saw the light of day at The Blue Angel, off-Broadway, opening in 1991 and playing for more than a year before completing a stint in London, and travelling the world. The show was revived in updated form in 2014, and it’s this re-write which provides the basis for what’s now playing in Camden.
It’s a simple premise. Pageant is, as the name would suggest, a putative American beauty contest where the competitors – Miss Great Plains (Alex Anstey), Miss Industrial Northeast (Nic Chiappetta), Miss Texas (Jonni Gatenby), Miss West Coast (Kevin Grogan), Miss Deep South (Adam O’Shea), and Miss Bible Belt (John McManus) – vie for the title ‘Miss Glamouresse’.
The whole proceedings are compared by the wonderfully cheesy host Frankie Cavalier (Miles Western), and as the judges are chosen from members of the audience, who get to vote at the end, there’s a real frisson of excitement as literally any of the ‘girls’ could end up taking the crown.
In between the group numbers each of the participants has both to fill a spot showcasing their individual talents, and plug a product from the competition’s sponsor, ‘Glamouresse’ – purveyor of dubious beauty products.
It would be unfair to give you a blow by blow account of what happens. It’s a contest. There’s a vote. Someone wins. However I’d like to pick out a few of the highlights if you’ll indulge me.
Firstly, Miles Western as host Frankie Cavalier is both authoritative and hugely entertaining to watch in his own right. Not only do you feel that he is in full control of the proceedings both on stage and in the audience, but his facial expressions and ever-cheesy grin are a show all by themselves.
Of the girls, the most conventionally stunning is the beautiful Southern Belle, Miss Deep South (Adam O’Shea). Is that gown Dixie Satin? Who knows? She wears it so well.
Probably the finest musical number is Miss Bible Belt (John McManus)’s ‘Banking on Jesus’ where Russell and Kelly’s lyrics shine and McManus’s voice achieves full-on gospel-diva status.
Nic Chiappetta as Miss Industrial Northwest gets not only to impress with his roller skating skills, but also with his acting chops as he also plays the outgoing Glamouresse Queen.
The slightly other-worldly Miss West Coast (Kevin Grogan) has a smile as big as the San Adreas Fault and put me in mind of Carol Channing. After seeing Miss west Coast’s Martha-Graham-inspired dance routine, you’ll never look at reincarnation in the same way again…
Miss Great Plains (Alex Anstey)’s monologue had me almost wetting myself with laughter, such was the passion of the delivery.
Miss Texas (Jonni Gatenby)’s tap routine marks her out as the finest dancer (and indeed dance captain) of the show, and her reaction to the eventual result was inspired.
There really isn’t anything I could fault about this magnificent evening’s entertainment, well, other than the fact that it starts at 9pm, and that there’s no song listing in the programme…but that’s being very picky. In truth, I laughed so much my face hurt.
The London Irish Centre is a bit out of the way if you haven’t been there before, but trust me, GO AND SEE THIS SHOW, you’ll want to thank me afterwards.
- Book & Lyrics: Bill Russell and Frank Kelly
- Music: Albert Evans
- Director: Bill Russell
- Starring: Miles Western, Alex Anstey, Nic Chiappetta, Jonni Gatenby, Kevin Grogan, John McManus, Adam O’Shea
- London Irish Centre, Camden
- 10th to 25th August 2017
- Review by Richard Voyce
- 13 August 2017