The original new musical, Little Miss Glitz, could use a little shade. At times as bright and effervescent as the glitter strewn across the stage, it misses a prime opportunity to make any real statement on the child beauty pageants it tries to parody.
While the reality shows, like Toddlers & Tiaras and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, it pokes fun at may be a distant memory, there are perhaps just enough remnants in our pop consciousness for Little Miss Glitz to have some resonance today.
And even while we acknowledge the development of a new musical can be a slow process (the original jukebox version of this show appeared two years ago), in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, it could be made to be so much more relevant today.
And just so we’re clear, playing pedophilia for laughs is never a good thing.
Little Miss Glitz is the story of 7-year old Isabella who has inextricably decided, against her father’s better judgement, to compete in a child beauty pageant. What Isabella sees as an opportunity to have a little fun turns into anything but, as she enters the craziness of this competitive world.
Book writer, Alan Pronger, has brought together all manner of stereotypes to Little Miss Glitz. Played by adults, the five pre-pubescent girls range from the über-competitive, to the decidedly uninterested. Adding to the stereotypes are the stage moms, who either push their offspring to compete, or are manipulated by their offspring to compete.
While there are few surprises among these stereotypes, Pronger does have some fun with them in what plays out as a largely saccharine-sweet and predictable story. And even while the show’s ultimate feel-good message may be laudable, the show screams for some darkness among all the fluff. This is especially true in dealing with one of its central characters, the creepy master of ceremonies, Peter Phyle (take a moment for that little gem to sink in).
As written, this potential target for the Surrey Creep Catchers is played for laughs, but there is little that is funny about a character who talks of cameras in the girl’s change room. What makes it even ickier though are the reactions by the stage parents, who largely brush off his lurking inappropriateness. As parody it doesn’t work, and one can’t help but imagine how gleefully subversive it would have been to see him killed off early in the show with a couple of strategically placed Pixy Stix to the carotid.
The seemingly endless stereotypes also include Stefan St Claire, the effeminately gay beauty pageant coach. Much like playing child molestation for laughs, Stefan also becomes the brunt of some misdirected humour. And while St Claire will eventually step-up to help Isabella, there is something a little tired about jokes that include him having seen “more Wangs than a Chinese sweatshop”.
This isn’t to say there is nothing to like in Pronger’s book as there is a lot of humour that does land, especially when it does go dark (Little Miss Fetus Princess, anyone?). And despite its sometimes-questionable material, the main theme running through Little Miss Glitz, while nowhere near revolutionary, does have merit.
Under Dawn Ewen’s direction and choreography, there is also energy to spare from this cast. While they may not always hit their notes, this cast does hit their marks, although at times there is so much going on behind the action it is difficult to know where to look. Ewen could have been better served by lighting designer Jonathan Kim and his assistant, Tory Ip, in delineating scenes and adding focus. The slow-motion fight scene is hilarious, even while upstaging Isabella, and the Sia inspired performance in the talent portion of the pageant is a hoot.
In using some of the tropes of the reality shows it lampoons, there is a sprinkling of confessional videos which play out between scenes. While clever, it was at first confusing as to why these videos were playing, as we are never provided any real context. Perhaps the trick here was to present the entire Little Miss Glitz as a reality show, which would have made these videos make more sense.
There is no denying the development of a brand-new musical can be tough, and their longevity is even more of a question mark, but despite its problems there is a little gem of a show buried inside Little Miss Glitz.
With the first hurdle complete, as it moves from jukebox to original music and lyrics from Christopher King, it just needs some much-needed tweaks to its book.
Little Miss Glitz with book by Alan Pronger and music & lyrics by Christopher King. Directed by Dawn Ewen. A Too Fly Productions presentation on stage at Performance Works on Granville Island until March 31. Visit http://toofly.ca for tickets and information.