Pageant – The Musical and The Tribute Artist

Pageant drops its tiara, but The Tribute Artist is silly fun!
February 19, 2014
The cast of Pageant: The Musical; (inset) Charles Busch in The Tribute Artist
 
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 percent 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 because 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 to work on, and someone has made the disastrous decision for the cast not to perform with body mics, which makes sitting through Pageant a chore. Tempo, timing and tone are essential to making Pageant fly, and that’s why the original 1991–’92 production at the Blue Angel  was such a dizzy delight. Here at the “Red Lacquer Club,” the audience is mercilessly jammed into uncomfortable seats to the point of bursting so both the cast and waitstaff have to navigate non-existent aisles during the entire show. Noise that seeps through to the stage area from the front bar forces the cast to constantly fight the din of glassware and talking to be heard. Their “spokesmodel 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. 
 
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 titular artist) who assumes the identity of his recently deceased landlady in order to hang on to her posh townhouse and sell it for millions, The Tribute Artist is the perfect antidote to your winter blues. Of course, since Busch penned it and stars in it, wacky complications ensue involving alcoholic lesbian realtors, transgender nieces, former model boyfriends and lots of classic movie dialogue for Busch to deliver in grand, glorious style.
 
Pageant: The Musical plays through Feb 24 at the Red Lacquer Club at Lucky Cheng’s (240 W 52nd St, BrownPaperTickets.com). The Tribute Artist plays through Mar 16 at Primary Stages (59 E 59th St, PrimaryStages.org).