The Miss Teen Jesus Pageant
nytheatre.com review by J Jordan
August 19, 2011
In The Miss Teen Jesus Pageant two fathers scheme up a fake beauty pageant rigged in favor of their Jesus-loving daughter, who has her heart set on going to bible college. With the help of their extended family—a drag queen uncle, a lesbian aunt, an illegal and self-proclaimed “chick with a dick,” and a horny reverend—they might just pull it off.
David and Jonathan (David Greyer and Randy Haylor, respectively) are two doting dads with a failing business and a big problem—their daughter, Lucy (Whitney Cooper; she sings, she dances, she knows her bible!), has been accepted to MSU, a holy college of sorts where she dreams of attending and having a “normal” life as opposed to one populated with drag queens, lesbians and Dimitri (Carol Scott, with a big accent and even bigger, uhm, package). They’re a sweet bunch, though, who care enough about Lucy to hatch and execute a plan to have a fake pageant full of stacked contestants (themselves) and Lucy, who will win a $60,000 scholarship for college.
They successfully dupe a reverend, Dr. Reverend Feltwell Junior (an astonishingly game Anne Laffoon), into MC’ing the show, who in turn dupes them into believing he is actually his father, a very famous televangelist. In reality, Reverend Feltwell Junior holds only clerical duties but dreams of having his own religious network programming empire. Sadly, he cannot keep his divining rod in his pants long enough to make those dreams reality.
Add to all this a Jewish lesbian couple (the fabulously dolled-up Mark Brennan and David Grant as “The Temple Twins”) about to be separated unless they win the money, and a kind young woman from a reptile farm with a heart of gold who knows her bible (a charming Niva Haynes), and things are sure to go horribly wrong. And if they’re wrong I don’t really want to be right.
Laffoon is delectable as the Reverend, all wild-eyed and confident, who is ultimately a man of God but suffers from mortal desires all the same. She plays the Reverend all over the place, a cheap suit filled with empty promises and raging hormones. Uncle Chris, a drag queen played by Michael Brassfield who, in his character’s own words, “brings his A-game” to the show, steals the focus every chance he gets and provides the audience with a standout techno-dance version of the classic hymn “Old Rugged Cross” which I can assure you has never been seen in Sunday school. If church services were filled with such creative interpretations (and barely-clad erotic dancers) more people would attend. Poor Aunt Carla, staged by Andy Ruitta, rounds things out as the shy, legally blind wallflower Aunt who gets a miracle of her own.
The real standouts here are, however—as they often are in any drag revue—the clothes. Dresser Patrick Murray may have had the most fun as he edited the rousing collection of evening gowns for the pageant wearers. The Temple Twins, et al, deserve a “praise Jesus” (or maybe an “Oy vey”) for managing the numerous and quick costume changes required while retaining their various undergarments. And let’s give a shout out to the hardest working members of the Miss Teen Jesus Pageant, the wigs. They’re great and represent the philosophy of the show, which is that you can be who you are and also whoever you wish to be. The lights (Robert Harris) and sound (Alfredo Gomez) are solid and most creative during the various hymns and the opulent pageant.
Interestingly, prior circumstance and character introduction aside, the action doesn’t really start heating up in the Miss Teen Jesus Pageant until the third act, which is the pageant itself. The script by Patrick di Battista and Anne Laffoon is actually pretty funny, but at times the humor in the first two acts is lost as the cast speeds toward the pageant. Who can blame them? This pageant may be the only one I’ve ever truly enjoyed, and I even walked away with a few new interpretations of bible passages. I’m pretty sure those offered up by Uncle Chris, reminiscent of the late Chris Farley in a long blonde wig, do not appear in the King James version of the bible. I wish they did.