SIOUX CITY -- You may be coming for the glamour but the real drama from the musical "Pageant" comes from figuring out how six men, playing female beauty contestants, are able to dance in stilettos for the entire length of a stage show.
"More than anything, that takes practice," Bill Russell said, minute before a rehearsal at Lamb Arts Regional Theatre. "You carry yourself in a completely different way when you're in high heels."
Raised in Spearfish, South Dakota, and attending Morningside College before transferring to the University of Kansas, Russell actually has plenty of experience with dudes donning pumps.
A 1998 Tony Award-nominated lyricist for the Broadway musical "Sideshow," he write the book and lyrics -- along with Frank Kelly -- for the satirical "Pageant" in 1991.
When it is presented on stage at Lamb Theatre (417 Market St.) from June 7 - 22, "Pageant" will also be directed by Russell.
"This is the 11th time I've directed 'Pageant,'" he explained. "I've directed 'Pageant' in everything from a black box theater with no frills to a big theater with more than 800 seats."
"The show is surprisingly adaptable," Russell said of the show that revolves around -- in real time -- the Miss Glamouresse pageant in which six ladies complete in evening gown, talent swimsuit and spokesmodel contest for the chance to be crowned queen."
So, let's get one question out of the way immediately: Why are guys getting gussied up in gowns instead of girls?
"'Pageant' is a parody of the culture of beauty contests," Russell said. "If we subjected actresses to what real contestants go through, it would seem exploitative. By using an all-male cast, we're making a point but not in a heavy-handed way."
Wait, this production of "Pageant" isn't entirely all-male. For one of the few times, the role of the emcee is played by a woman who is portraying a man.
Phew, that's confusing.
However, it's par for the course for the unconventional Russell, who was written lyrics for shows revolving around punks ("Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens") as well as conjoined twins ("Sideshow" was based on the lives of Daisy and Violet Hilton, two sisters who went into show business as a carnival attraction).
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Perhaps, it is Russell's gift for the offbeat that has given his shows longevity.
"'Pageant' was written at a time when beauty contests like Miss America were actually on the wane," he said. "I thought it would become hopelessly dated after a while."
Instead, Russell's show was actually ahead of the cultural zeitgeist, anticipating beauty contestants geared toward children, older people and, yes, even female impersonators.
"'RuPaul's Drag Race' has brought drag into mainstream," Russell said, adding that "Pageant" isn't a drag show.
"When people see 'Pageant,' they expect it to be a hoot," he continued. "But by the time the show ends, I want them to identify with the characters."
Since its premiere 28 years ago, "Pageant" has been performed all over the world.
"That has really surprised me since I thought a beauty pageant is such an American phenomenon," Russell said. "It has been surprisingly timeless."
For women, it has been as bit subversive in its feminism while others love how it plays with traditional gender roles.
Russell said he gets a kick at how interactive "Pageant" is.
"We actually select the judges from the audience and they vote for their favorite contestant," he said.
That certainly adds to the popular appeal of the show.
"Anyone can become Miss Glamouresse," Russell said. "Sometimes, dreams really do come true."