Strap in folks, and get ready for Pageant Princess, The Musical - a live-action version of that reality show train wreak, Toddlers & Tiaras – only this show is set to music and the girls on the runway are a little taller than knee-high. But fans of the controversial reality show which runs on TLC will recognize all the things that keep people burning up the chat rooms, wagging their fingers, shaking their heads and coming back for more every season.
There’s a lot that this show gets right – and as a (not so closeted) fan of Toddlers & Tiaras myself I went in hoping to find – and was rewarded with – all the ingredients that make up any good episode of the show. There is the overly ambitious pageant mom who lives vicariously through her daughter now that she is no longer on the pageant circuit herself. There’s the bratty child who is self-centered, conceited but – let’s face it – the strongest contender for the crown. There’s the clueless dad who gets swept up into the game without really understanding all the rules, and his sugar-addicted child who joneses for candy in a way that we only hope is not a precursor to what will one day be a sad relationship with something much stronger. There are the parents who force their tomboy into a dress because her twin got sick and they already paid for everything (room, dress, entry fee, flipper – watchers of the show know how the costs can mount into the thousands). There’s the acknowledgement that all this is costing a bundle and the grand prize of $200 is a mere fraction of what it took to get there. And of course orbiting the whole thing are the pageant coaches, host and judges who live so deeply in this world that the imprint of their own crown leaves a permanent trench in their hair-sprayed weave. Yup, it’s all there. But somehow I’m not sure Pageant Princess, The Musical was ready to win Ultimate Grand Supreme, or even Mini-Grand Supreme this year. Somehow the final package was just a little off.
When creating an homage it’s easy to toss in the ingredients that echo the original, but with the actual tv show already providing so much raw material to poke fun at it’s not easy to come up with more than a lot of one-dimensional characters who are simply retreads of what any random episode of T&T itself will already bring to the table. Developing the show as a musical is a novel idea and allowed for several inspired moments (“New Dancin’ Shoes” performed by Staci [Lorelei Mackenzie] and Miss Louisa [Emily Billig] was a show stopper) but also invited several pitfalls. Some songs such as “Packing Song” were nothing more than several minutes of repetitive lyrics that did little to move the plot along.
When Pageant Princess deviated from the T&T format it rose to the occasion and provided an opportunity to give the characters some complexity to explore. The storyline of Max (Kristen Penner) was terrific – delving into the heartbreak of the never-seen “other” child – the sibling of the pageant child. On any other day Max is playing baseball while her twin sister is doing the pageant circuit. Now that her sister’s illness forces her to step into a role she’s uncomfortable with, she’s afforded an opportunity to voice a very strong point (“Max’s Lament”) and highlight what these pageants do to the forgotten family members – something never explored on these reality shows. Watching that relationship of “other” child and parents deepen and strengthen was probably one of the most rewarding of the show. I would have liked to have seen this storyline extended in an effort to expand the overall impact and leave audiences with a resounding message.
Other highlights include Susanna Merrick who is fun as the candy addicted Donna Lou but whose role is too one-dimensional to give her much room to shine above the material.
Overall the show has some fun moments and, thanks to the very talented cast who each prove they have flair and ability there is a lot here to be enjoyed. In the end, however, the scores just aren’t high enough to walk away with the big crown.
Pageant Princess, The Musical
Benefiting: Adam R. Spector Foundation
Produced by Violet Productions
Music by Joni Ernst
Book by Abigail Taylor
Book, Lyrics, and Music also by Lorelei Mackenzie & Kristen Penner
$18 General Admission
$9.00 for Film/Music Participants
FREE for Theatre Festivity Participants
Tuesday 6/5/12 – 7:00pm = Performance #1
Saturday 6/9/12 – 3:30pm = Performance #2
Sunday 6/10/12 – 1:30pm = Performance #3
Saturday 6/16/12 – 11:00am = Performance #4
Wednesday 6/20/12 – 4:30pm = Performance #5
Saturday 6/23/12 – 11:30am = Performance #6
At Bleecker Street Theatre (Upstairs)
45 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10012
Conveniently located near:
Bleecker St (4 & 6)
Broadway – Lafayette St (B, D, F, M)
Prince St (N, R)