Portions of talent
Reno, NV 89501
The institution of the beauty pageant is familiar: a seemingly outdated competition in which contestants are judged live onstage mainly for their physical appearance while modeling swimwear, evening gowns and performing a unique “talent.” Pageant takes an already campy and ridiculous tradition and pokes fun at just about every aspect of it. As a satire, it exposes the absurdity of the spectacle but also fully embraces the conventions. Brüka Theatre’s production deals with some serious subjects but in a lighthearted way that keeps you laughing.
The musical, written over 20 years ago by Bill Russell and Frank Kelly, casts men as the contestants in this less-than-choice beauty pageant and has them dress up as women competing for the title of Miss Glamouresse. The contest is complete with evening gown, swimsuit, talent, and beauty crisis counseling competitions. The MC, Frankie Cavalier, played by Andy Luna, does a wonderful job of emulating a late-night-TV-host-meets-Frankie Avalon. He plays into the role with not-so-subtle mannerisms, such as exaggerated head nods, eyebrow raising and, during one of his solo singing performances, gazing into the eyes of singled-out audience members. We are introduced to the six competitors through the opening number where the contestants sing the lyric, “America, you made us into what we are today.”
The show is full of puns and comic stereotypes; the six contestants are from different regions of the United States and play highly generalized versions of people from those areas. As Miss Texas—yes, Texas is its own region—Alexander Biber delivers a stellar performance highlighted by a tap-dancing cowgirl, cap-gun-shooting talent act that ends in full splits. Miss Great Plains, played by Rodney Hurst, is charmingly clumsy and imitates a Midwestern drawl. For her talent piece, she dramatizes her very own free verse poem titled “I Am the Land.” Karma Quinn, Miss West Coast (Trent Lott), is a New Age, bleach blonde ditz hippie. For her talent piece, she gives the audience an interpretive dance performance. Ensconced in stretchy, semi-transparent pink fabric, she writhes about the stage, emerging to act out “Seven Ages of Me.” Miss Industrial Northeast, played by John Wade, is a Latina who surprises the audience with her singing, roller-skating and accordion solo. And Miss Deep South (Jake Peck) breaks out of her incarnation of antebellum nostalgia—she’s even got a hoopskirt bathing suit—and shows off her talent for ventriloquism. She sings along with puppets of her grandparents to “Camptown Ladies” and has the audience in hysterics as she attempts to switch between all three voices. Finally, there’s Miss Bible Belt, played by Adam Whitney. When she brings out her crystal glasses for her talent portion, the water is gone, supposedly consumed by Miss Texas. After fuming momentarily, she winks upward and smiles then continues her performance by making the sounds with her voice. And what a voice she has. As Frankie says after her act, “Somewhere in heaven there’s an angel missing a voice.”
The Brüka production, directed by Mary Bennett, is stunningly simple and well done. The musical accompaniment is live, and Bill Quinby and His Three Big Pieces add an air of authenticity to the performance. The cast is ultra-convincing as their female characters—with the waxing and makeup, you all but forget they are men. Perhaps most entertaining is the fact that the judges are audience members, making it more of a “real” pageant for the audience and the cast. On opening night, Miss Deep South took the title of Miss Glamouresse. Pageant is anything but a drag.