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Interview: James Vasquez brings 'Pageant' back to the Cygnet Theatre

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The "Pageant" is back at the Cygnet Theatre and James Vasquez, a San Diego native who is no stranger to our theatres, is happy to be the man that directs this new production. I was able to chat with him between rehearsals to chat about bringing the Glamouresse pageant back to the stage. "Pageant" is playing at the Cygnet Theatre through Sunday, August 31, 2014.

After going to Julliard for school, James found himself back in San Diego as a performer and choreographer at various theatres including the North Coast Rep, San Diego Musical Theatre, Diversionary Theatre, and the Old Globe Theatre. He was first introduced to "Pageant" when he was cast as Miss West Coast in the North Coast Rep, but revisited the show as the role again in the 2005 Cygnet production. Now that he is coming back to the Miss Glamouresse pageant for the third time he is experiencing it as the director of this bevy of beauties. So how has that history impacted how he tackles the show for this run?

“It's been really interesting challenge because we learned the show when we did it at the North Coast Rep, it was directed and choreograph by Russell Garret who's also a San Diego native and was the original Ms. Texas, he actually helped create the show back in in the late 80's. So we learned that original off Broadway production with a original off Broadway choreography. So in some ways I feel like the pageant that I learned originally was near perfection. However, you know it's 12 years since that first time I did it and the world is changed and I’ve changed and my point of view is changed and my voice as an artist I think have become clearer and so it, putting my own spin on it has been easy just to sort of follow my instincts. But the challenge has come in feeling like I want to honor that original production but also make ours its own special, new production.”

While there could be some awkwardness in not playing his old role, luckily, there has been nothing but love for this production’s Miss West Coast, Luke Harvey Jacobs. “It's been a really great rediscovering that role with a new actor who is so smart and so open to cheering what I have to say. But he is also so ready in bringing his own ideas to this table. So it's been fun to see a new interpretation of a role that I love so much and I love even more now because of what Luke is doing.”

David Mcbean, as the lovely Miss Deep South is also returning to this show, having worked on it with Vasquez previously. So how are the two veterans doing with the new version of the show?
“We joke a lot because I’ll be teaching choreography and we'll start running it and the rest of the cast will do the new choreography in just by habit David and I will go into old choreography, so he sometimes curses my name when I was teaching the choreography.” James is a adamant though, that this show would not be the same with David as part of the cast. “David leads the company, you know because he's done the show and because he's so smart and so strong. He's a really fantastic company leader and has been really helpful in helping them grasp the style of the show. He's fantastic and he's so open and willing onstage which I love. I love that this cast is open and willing and not afraid to fail. That's one of the things I love about this cast. Across the board they get out there and they go big and they go bold and they laugh at themselves afterwards.”

James credits more than just his fantastic cast for putting together this show, he cannot praise the other members of his team enough either.
“My design team is my favorite design team! It's a group of people that I’ve worked with on a handful of shows. My set designer Sean Fanning is really amazing. Then Michelle Caron, my lighting designer, knows how to light a show, it's so beautiful and pink.,” He says with a laugh. “The costumes in this show are unbelievable. My costume designer Shirley Pierson really honors the original designs and put her own brilliant spin on it and they’re just stunning. I mean all of them have been handmade except for opening dresses that were bought and she all trimmed to fit the style of the show. Everything audience will see on that stage is handmade. I feel so blessed to have this team behind me. They make me look good. You know, the director sometimes gets a lot of the attention, but I would not be getting the attention without my support team and my collaborators. “

Beauty pageants sometimes get a bad rap in modern day America, with people saying they send the wrong message to girls. So what is it that the audience will get out of this fun and frothy homage to the pageant circuit?
“There's nothing wrong with coming into a theater for an hour and a half and just laughing and just sort of escaping and that’s what draws me to do it -just the sheer joy. I do think there are statements that are made about beauty and pressures, but there’s also heart underneath each and every one of these characters. It really comes down to being comfortable with you who you are and expressing yourself. We see such a diverse display of different personalities on stage in the show. So I think we can connect with each one of this characters in our own way and laugh about it and laugh about our differences and sort of leave doing ‘I’m okay and my quirkiness is okay.’”

So if the audience wants to celebrate along with the cast and wear a tiara to the show, that is something James can fully support. “We absolutely want them to come feeling glamorous. So if they’ve got a tiara and they want to rock it, they absolutely should. But know that those girls on stage are going to be fighting to steal it from them.
We celebrate everybody’s beauty at the Glamouresse pageant.”

Check out the “Pageant” before the chance for the crown is gone forever on August 31st. For show times and ticket information for to www.cygnettheatre.com

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