This past Monday, I was thrilled to attend The 6th Annual Broadway Beauty Pageant, a hilarious and ribald event staged at Symphony Space (before a sold-out crowd) to raise money for The Ali Forney Center.
As a member of the Host Committee, I'd pledged to sell $500 worth of tickets, which I absolutely did—mostly to myself! I took José, brought my pal Jason along (VIP tickets including the afterparty) and the rest went to a Boy Culture reader who later informed me he'd been a homeless gay youth just a couple of years ago and to a lucky, last-minute couple.
As much work as it was trying to interest people in tickets, the show would go on to sell out, raising a record-breaking $75,000.
Arrived early to cover the junior red carpet, but it was kind of a bust for me because as a hobbyist blogger, I don't have pro lighting and it was in a 100-degree antechamber that might as well have been a cave.
I grabbed a few quick tidbits from the contestants but skipped everyone else, including judges Jackie Hoffman, Michael Musto and Tonya Pinkins, feeling bad about taking up anyone's time when they were impossible to see. Speaking of which,I didn't see expected guests Paul McGill, Rachel Dratch or John Glover, but I did at least make the acquaintance of Broadway expert Richie Ridge, one of whose helpers turned out to be Alex, a Boy Culture reader who kept my spirits up in the stifling heat.
Sat down just in time to see the show open, featuring hysterical emcee Tovah Feldshuh who, as she pointed out, starred in Broadway's longest running one-woman show—take that, Lena Horne. She cracked wise about Grindr, Boy Butter and her many unconsummated Tony nominations. She was, without a doubt, 10 times funnier than last year.
KEEP READING FOR TONS OF PICTURES & VIDEO, SOME OF IT RATHER REVEALING...
The opening number starred my buddy and neighbor Brent Barrett (pictured), whose sensational voice really elevated an already chuckle-inducing "Beautiful Boys" (a take-off of the Follies classique "Beautiful Girls"), and introduced us to the five contestants: Andrew Chappelle (Mamma Mia), Wilkie Ferguson III (Porgy and Bess), Corey Mach (Godspell), Anthony Wayne (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) and Jesse Swimm (Mary Poppins).
After the judges got a good look at the contenders, the talent portion was first, and it was impressively diverse.
Swimm kicked things off with a relatively safe, humorous, original song by a friend of his. He really worked the argyle.
Mach played piano and sang a number demonstrating how virtually every popular song ever made uses the same four chords. This seemed to impress the audience, but I saw it as a recreation of those viral videos that do the same thing, albeit a recreation done with a lot of genuine boyish charm. The kid is a star. Being shirtless under a white jacket and "wearing" loose gold shorts helps one in that regard.
Ferguson did a clever Mozart impersonation while banging out variations on "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." ("The brotha can play," Hoffman deadpanned, which was far funnier than her too-far gag about Tyler Clementi later on.)
Chappelle then came out and completely blew everyone away with a comedy routine about the ups and downs of wearing high heels that boasted a Broadway-caliber delivery that probably could have survived even without a mic. What's with this men-in-heels meme lately??? Stellar. He could have a stand-up act tomorrow, and could do it standing up in stilettoes.
Finally, Wayne elevated lip-synching to Jennifer Holliday's "I Am Changing" from Dreamgirls into something far more than miming. Ending with a semi-strip didn't hoit.
At this point, I was beginning to gravitate to Chappelle after having selected Mach from photos alone, but was surprised how all the guys were making their marks.
Ali Forney director Carl Siciliano gave a really moving speech about the importance of his organization following an awkward (but not untrue) joke about a swimsuit competition between gay-org directors that would never work because no one would want to stand next to him in a swimsuit. Humor aside, Siciliano is supersincere, an earthy presence and, of course, so easy on the eyes they barely have to do any work at all.
Next up was the interview portion, with the guys emerging in dapper suits and ties. If all five were on a wedding cake, it would've been a terrific illustration of the right's nightmares regarding marriage equality. I mostly liked their answers (and loved their sweet nervousness). You would think Chappelle would lose some points for not knowing who Joey Luft is and being a bit light on his Judy Garland knowledge (he could ID The Wizard of Oz as her claim to fame, and that's about it...but if being young were a crime, prison rape would be an even worse problem than it already is.) He redeemed himself by name-checking Bea Arthur and Patti LuPone.
We were then treated to flashback performances by three past winners, including my all-time favorite person who's ever set foot on a stage (including Madonna, Angela Lansbury and Sarah Bernhardt), Michael Cusumano; the unbelievably dynamic and hard-bodied Frankie Grande, another friend; and fetching androgyne Anthony Hollock.
The theme of their mash-up number was "going too far," which all three had done in their (winning!) talent performances. Seeing Frankie reprise his WTF? version of Gollum as a lounge singer is something I'll never forget.
The swimsuit competition was mercilessly short, but the contestants were, rumor has it, long. Mach's pool-themed strip made a splash (his trunks led Musto to point out he was hung like Jesus on the cross, which left the poor boy modestly clasping his hands in front of his endowment); Ferguson deserved high praise for his shamefully unshameless board shorts with scuba gear; Chapelle came up with a way to be gayer than Richard Simmons on a unicorn while simultaneously showing off his yummy thick build; lone straight guy Swimm went all chim-chim-charee with his revealing, skintight trunks; and Wayne in my opinion won this thing with a Speedo of many colors and the best body in recorded human history.
Guys—you all look amazing in a swimsuit, and probably look every bit as good out of one.
The audience votes on who wins ($10 = a vote), and somehow the organizers are able to tally all of them in a furious 15 minutes or so. During this time, Feldshuh and Musto and pageant personnel tried in vain to fill the gap with banter and ad-libbing, but Pinkins had the biggest impact by telling her personal story of being a parent in Inland Empire, California, and having the Mormon school heads tell her point-blank, "We don't care if you've been on Broadway, we don't like you and we don't want you here," all because she'd voiced concerns about the fact that queer-vibing kids were being forced out of performing at her child's school.
Finally, it was time to announce the winner. As I did last year, I had my camera trained on the right person—after an apparently very close vote, Chappelle triumphed and could not have looked more overjoyed.
Afterward, I grabbed some quotes from the winners and losers (God, what winning losers!) before Jason and I headed to the afterparty, a spirited gathering with too few sliders that was nonetheless a fun opportunity to chat with everyone at length and verbally autopsy the affair. It was especially fun seeing past winner Grande (pictured).
I really cherished the opportunity to lend some help (okay, just a little bread) to The Ali Forney Center and, as it did last year, The Broadway Beauty Pageant totally entertained me.
Let's pray that Donald Trump doesn't buy it.