Pageant – The Musical and The Tribute Artist

Pageant drops its crown, but The Tribute Artist is silly fun!

Pageant – The Musical   (2 stars)
The Tribute Artist   (4 stars)

Because the ongoing Monday night performances of Pageant – The Musical are a benefit for BC/EFA, it probably shouldn’t be reviewed.  However, since only 50% of the ticket sales benefit BC/EFA and since I plunked down my own money to see it, I’m going to review it anyway since I believe lessons can be learned from it.  Let me start by saying the cast, including Nick Cearley, Frankie J. Grande, Douglas Lyons, Alex Ringler, Marty Thomas, Seth Tucker and Brad Oscar all work extremely hard and are terrific considering the horrible conditions under which they’re forced to perform.  Unfortunately, the stage inside Lucky Cheng’s is a nightmare for the guys to work on, and someone has made the disastrous decision for the cast not to perform with body mic’s, which makes sitting through Pageant a tedious chore.  Tempo, timing and tone are essential to making Pageant fly, and that’s why the original production at the Blue Angel in 1991-92 was such a dizzy delight.  Here at the ‘Red Lacquer Club,’ the audience is mercilessly jammed into uncomfortable seats to the point of bursting where both the cast and wait-staff have to navigate non-existent aisles the entire show.  There’s an incredible amount of noise that seeps through to the stage area from the front bar so the cast is constantly fighting the din of glassware and talking to be heard.  Their ‘spokes-model beauty spots’ are completely lost due to the sound problems and, when they attempt to use a hand-held microphone for their talent competition, it’s hit or miss.  But that sums up this disappointing Pageant.  It’s still a silly, delightful show – it’s just in the wrong venue for it to be seen in its best light.  The cast and costumes are top-notch, but the rest of this Pageant production isn’t ready for primetime  – even as a benefit.

Conversely, Charles Busch and his merry band of players has scored another hit with his frothy concoction, The Tribute Artist, currently on view at Primary Stages.  A ‘real-estate-comedy’ about a drag performer (the artist of the title) who assumes the identity of his recently deceased landlady in order to hang onto her posh town house and sell it for millions, The Tribute Artist is the perfect anecdote to your ‘winter blues.’  Of course since Busch penned it and stars, wacky complications ensue that involve alcoholic lesbian realtors, transgendered nieces, former model boyfriends and lots of classic movie dialogue for Busch to deliver in grand, glorious style.

Pageant – The Musical plays thru February 24 at the Red Lacquer Club at Lucky Cheng’s (240 W 52nd St, BrownPaperTickets.com).   The Tribute Artist plays thru March 16 at Primary Stages (59 E 59th St, PrimaryStages.org).

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