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Camp Followers: ‘Pageant’ and Comedian Julian Clary

May 3, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ ″Mirror, mirror of success, who will be Miss Glamouresse?″

Will it be Miss Texas who in her spare time works with the beauty impaired? Or Miss Industrial Northeast who rollerskates while playing ″The Beer Barrel Polka″ on the accordion? Or Miss West Coast, known for her interpretive dance cycle, ″The Seven Ages of Me?″

These are some of the important questions posed - and answered - by ″Pageant,″ the hilarious new musical revue that paraded into off- Broadway’s Blue Angel on Thursday night. Without a doubt, it’s the funniest show in town.

The revue is for everyone who has ever loved or hated that annual rite of September, the Miss America Pageant. Except there is one important difference here - the gals are all guys. But before you bar your Aunt Betty from attending, be reassured that the show is as clean as a Saturday night ice cream social and a lot less caloric.

The creators have a genuine affection for beauty contests, surely one of the weirdest of American rituals. Bill Russell and Frank Kelly, responsible for the book and lyrics, have captured their bizarreness in loving detail.

The show was the idea of Robert Longbottom, who also directed and choreographed its deadly accurate production numbers, sort of a cross between ″Up with the People″ and ″La Cage aux Folles.″ The bouncy, appropriately homogenized music is by Albert Evans.

Of course, there are the evening-gown, swimsuit and talent competitions, not to mention a new category of judging, the beauty crisis call. For it, the finalists have to counsel distraught telephone callers about grooming problems or makeup needs. Suffice it to say, very few of their catastrophes have to do with split ends.

Presiding over the Miss Glamouresse Pageant is Frankie Cavalier, a carefully coiffed master of ceremonies - dig that wave in his hair - who would not be out of place in one of Las Vegas’ smarmier lounge acts. He’s played to sleazy perfection by J.T. Cromwell.

Several audience members get to pick Miss Glamouresse 1991, chosen on a point system, not much different from those used in real, but not less earnest, sporting events. That means the ending of the show could change from performance to performance. But it doesn’t matter.

All the contestants - played by Randl Ash, David Drake, Russell Garrett, Joe Joyce, John Salvatore and Dick Scanlan - are winners. Their legs aren’t bad either.

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What is one to make of Julian Clary, who looks like the gorgeous Maureen McGovern, sounds like a cross between Rip Taylor and those scamps from ″Monty Python’s Flying Circus″ and deals with what he calls ″smutty innuendo″?

Clary, who recently completed an engagement in London’s West End, has a large following in England where he draws everyone from punks to housewives.

Now making his American debut at the Ballroom, Clary’s suggestive funnies are pretty raunchy, mostly about himself, but they hit the target more often than not.

Clary enters in a red, white and blue pants suit with towering skyscraper shoulder pads. He later changes to a black vinyl outfit that makes him resemble a campy gladiator extra from ″Spartacus.″

As he does in England, Clary brings members of the audience on stage. Their humiliations are brief and not terribly funny. The performer has more success telling stories about his own exotic life and singing in a sometimes flat monotone such songs as ″Rhinestone Cowboy,″ ″Que Sera Sera″ and ″Leader of the Pack.″ Altogether, a most peculiar entertainment, but never boring.

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