Manoa Valley’s 50th Opener a Crowned Winner
Fifty years is quite the accomplishment. Through thick and thin, through prosperity and near closure, and with the help of a supportive community that wants to continue seeing more of the kind of theatre that they deliver, Manoa Valley Theatre kicks off it’s momentous 50th Season with a bang- Pageant. Their 50th Season looks to be very exciting- two Premiere shows sprinkled in-between remounts of some of their “Greatest Hits,” of which Pageant is the latter- done to much acclaim in 1996 and once again in 2006, revisiting Pageant is a wonderful first step to the season.
Pageant is a play that is an actual pageant sponsored by fictitious beauty line company Glamouresse. Glamouresse annually holds the Miss Glamouresse Beauty Pageant, where contestants compete in talent, swimsuit, physical fitness, evening gown, and spokes-modeling categories, with the final competition tasking the “girls” to answer cold calls from the Glamouresse 24 Hour Beauty Crisis Hotline. The judges in this competition are members of the audience- you may be asked to judge the show if you arrive early enough. However, if you are not chosen, you are encouraged to cheer on who you support anyhow- this can sway the tides in any direction, and having an audience favorite go up against a judge’s choice is always exciting. The evening I attended, the audience flat out booed when the judge that sat in front of me gave a terribly low score to one of the ladies, adding to the drama and excitement to the evening.
Due to the audience scoring system, this means that every night could have a different winner. The night I attended, the crowd favorite was Miss Depp South played by Montana West Rizzuto, who had a fabulous ventriloquism number. Alongside him were other actors joining in the fun and vying for the coveted sash: Sean Ramsey’s Miss West Coast was the embodiment of the New Age/Avant Garde/Whole Foods culture all in one, Brandon Saballa’s Miss Bible Belt had a number that got the whole house clapping, Jared Duldulao’s Miss Great Plains fiercely wore some of the best dresses in the show, Miss Industrial Northeast’sAaron Miko was charmingly clumsy and the most endearing, and Anthony Lee’s Miss Texas brought down the house by setting the bar high as the first spokes-model to pitch a Glamouresse beauty product- I won’t spoil what it is though.
The cast is entirely male, and all the performers are performing in drag. This is not addressed at all in the script, save for very few double entendre and clever lines. The audience is just left to accept that these ladies are ladies, all vying for the Glamouresse title they all covet. The nature of the production is meant to be a satirical spin on the inherent ridiculousness and craziness that a beauty pageant is (a scholarship program that judges women on their looks and only allows 20 second answers to complex questions?), and having the men in drag perform elevates the production by giving the audience distance enough to laugh. If it were women performing, it could err on the side of pity, which is not what a comedy needs. That being said, do not think this is poking fun at the drag community either- all of the jokes and gags within the show are a product of their characters, and there is never a time where “because he is in drag” is the punchline. The cast deserves commendation for going full tilt with their energy and camp, and they look tremendously great while doing so- Jennifer Hart and Trudy Hodnefield’s costumes were a tremendously fun blend between fierce and off-the-wall bonkers. For example, every lady got beautiful evening gowns that represented who they were and where they came from, but the swimsuits they all wore together had them looking like toy Trolls, and it was so ridiculous that no one was safe from the fun and hijinks they had during that number. Lisa Ponce de Leon and actor Ramsey were also credited for the Hair & Makeup design, and they also deserve accolades- everyone looked their best, and the drama and energy inherently found in drag makeup elevated the performances beautifully. Before moving on, I’d be remiss if I did not include our host for the evening, Frankie Cavalier, played by Chris Jackson. A character unto himself, Jackson’s Frankie has a few great looks and lines, and credit must be given to him for physically committing to this character that walks and moves as if he were his own doll. Charming, witty, and the perfect element to wrangle and host the evening.
A few more notes: DeAnne Kennedy’s glamourous set was “Glamouresse,” with very accurate painting in the logo and stars and a lighting trim that was just so nice to soak in. Sara Ward’s props were great as she did a fantastic job bringing to life all of these fictitious items that Glamouresse had invented in the script. Finally, Director Brad Powell- I previously found points of contention within a couple of his productions that he had directed at Manoa Valley Theatre. I am happy to say his direction and aesthetic worked well for this show, and he and his team have created the perfect fun springboard into Manoa Valley Theatre’s 50th season.
Manoa Valley Theatre’s Pageant will run August 30 – September 26. Show times are Wed. 7:30 p.m., Thur. 7:30 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 8 p.m., and Sun. 4 p.m. Doors will open for seating one hour prior to each performance. Food and drinks will be available for purchase on site. No outside food or drinks are allowed. Tickets are $40. Seniors and military are admitted for $35, youth 25 years old and younger are $22. Minimum age is 10. Call 988-6131 or purchase tickets online at manoavalleytheatre.com. The play is performed in two acts with one intermission.