Beauty pageants have always been one of Hollywood’s favorite targets. Films such as “Miss Congeniality” and “Drop Dead Gorgeous” poke fun of the big hair, big teeth and even bigger smiles. It comes as no surprise, then, that musical theater offers its own take on the subject. The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre’s production of “Smile” this past weekend had all the glitz and glamour of pageant films, with an added dose of song and a huge helping of heart.
“Smile” tells the tale of the 2003 Young American Miss pageant, a fictional contest taking place in Santa Rosa, California. Sixteen incoming high-school seniors from all over the state convene in a hotel, and immediately begin perfecting their talents, their dancing and, most of all, their widened grins. Couple Brenda DiCarlo (Elise Stempky) and Big Bob Freelander (David Andrews), the pageant’s organizers, try to keep everything running smoothly, while hoping to please the show’s ticket holders and sponsors.
As with all pageants, things go awry, and “Smile” certainly has its share of bloopers. Flamboyant dance instructor Tommy French, played to a hilt by Kevin Gill, insists on having a runway on the pageant stage, while some of the girls, upset over a Mexican contestant who can whip up a mean batch of guacamole dip, try to sabotage her chances of winning. And beyond the expected bickering and gossip among the contestants, there are a few girls who doubt their ability to triumph, such as girl-next-door Robin Gibson (Kristina Thompson) and perky blonde Doria Hudson (Kristin Ritter).
While not as sophisticated as, say, “West Side Story,” “Smile” is nonetheless a tricky musical to perform: The dancing numbers, such as “Shine” and “Y.A.M.,” require a great deal of precision and synchronicity. Thankfully, the A2CT cast was more than up to the challenge, anchored by the highly-talented chorus of contestants. The girls were not only in-step, but they also allowed their characters to shine through. In particular, Lorna Colon as Maria Gonzales hit all the right notes; striking a balance between saccharine and cunning, she crafted an endearing, if maybe a tad na