×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Runaway Beauty Queen

Rhonda Coullet certainly has a good hook for a musical biography. She was Miss Arkansas 1965, but gave up her title and crown a few months after the Miss America pageant, where judge Joan Crawford didn't take kindly to her appearance and attitude. Why she quit and how it affected her are at the heart of her autobiographical musical "Runaway Beauty Queen."

With:
Sis, Merope - Rhonda Coullet Asterope, Peggy Ann, et al. - KT Curran Caelano, Lynda Gale, et al. - Janet Dickinson Maia, Chaperone, et al. - Lori Fischer Daddy, Jimmy, Jean Claude, et al. - Eric Loscheider Alcyone, Mamaw, et al. - Cass Morgan Taygeta, Mama, et al. - Mary Murfitt Electra, Joan Crawford, et al. - Elizabeth Palmer

Rhonda Coullet certainly has a good hook for a musical biography. She was Miss Arkansas 1965, but gave up her title and crown a few months after the Miss America pageant, where judge Joan Crawford didn’t take kindly to her appearance and attitude. Why she quit and how it affected her are at the heart of her autobiographical musical “Runaway Beauty Queen,” distinguished primarily by Coullet’s country-flavored rock and pop score and a strong cast of performers who make up a variation on a Greek chorus.

But the book, with its ethereal qualities, and Coullet’s own undeveloped performance, tend to block the audience from getting to know what she’s all about until the second half, when she’s more of an adult.

While the beauty pageant provides a major turning point in her life, it’s only one part of a story that first establishes her as a Pleaid, one of the seven stars considered goddesses in the heavens. She’s the invisible one and the sisters send her back to Earth to rejuvenate her light. Thus Coullet’s character, Sis, becomes a future rock goddess, a young woman who turns to pageants as her only way to sing in public.

The sisters who send her on the journey to Earth return as numerous characters, from mother to school friends, shaping her rise and artistic development. Each brings a strong voice (and beautiful harmony) throughout the show, but that heavenly element doesn’t bring the show full circle.

It does, however, allow Coullet to avoid a more straightforward biographical story and allow her to track her own life with the changing attitudes of women from the 1960s to today.

Staged on a cavern-like set by Roman Tatarowicz that shifts locales with each change in Matthew E. Adelson’s lighting, the show traces Sis’ childhood in Arkansas with a father who wasn’t around much. She spent a lot of time with a forward-thinking grandmother, lovingly played by Cass Morgan with a welcome earthy spirit.

Director Richard Hopkins, artistic director of Florida Studio Theater, establishes a good pace and brings out the individuality in the supporting cast members.

Mary Murfitt, who has helped create her own shows with a homey twang, plays Sis’ mother, who doesn’t quite know how to deal with her independent-minded daughter and her wandering husband.

Elizabeth Palmer milks the humor in an outrageous performance as a maniacal Joan Crawford, snapping a shirt hangar as she evaluates the Miss America contestants, while Janet Dickinson is daffily adorable as a pageant hopeful who comically tries a balletic turn from “Swan Lake.”

As a performer, Coullet usually displays a winning way with audiences, but she seems strangely detached from Sis. Through most of the show, she substitutes mugging and odd looks for a sense of self, particularly in the character’s younger years. It’s not until an emotional reunion in the second act that we really see her heart and personality emerge. Her smoke-tinged voice also seems to strain at times.

But there’s a story worth watching here and the score is at times bouncy, notably in the title song, a bit racy in “I’ve Got a Callous” and particularly heartwarming in Morgan’s rendition of “The Farmer’s Daughter.”

It’s just strange to think that the show might work better with another actress playing Coullet’s story.

Popular on Variety

Runaway Beauty Queen

Florida Studio Theater, Sarasota; 173 Seats; $30 Top

Production: SARASOTA, FLA. A Florida Studio Theater production of a musical in two acts by Rhonda Coullet. Directed by Richard Hopkins. Music director, Michael Sebastian. Choreographer, Jimmy Hoskins.

Creative: Sets, Roman Tatarowicz; lighting, Matthew E. Adelson; costumes, Marcella Beckwith; production stage manager, Jill Zakrzewski. Opened, reviewed April 14, 2005. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast: Sis, Merope - Rhonda Coullet Asterope, Peggy Ann, et al. - KT Curran Caelano, Lynda Gale, et al. - Janet Dickinson Maia, Chaperone, et al. - Lori Fischer Daddy, Jimmy, Jean Claude, et al. - Eric Loscheider Alcyone, Mamaw, et al. - Cass Morgan Taygeta, Mama, et al. - Mary Murfitt Electra, Joan Crawford, et al. - Elizabeth Palmer

More Legit

  • The Rose Tattoo review

    Broadway Review: 'The Rose Tattoo' Starring Marisa Tomei

    “The Rose Tattoo” is what happens when a poet writes a comedy — something strange, but kind of lovely. The same might be said of director Trip Cullman’s production: Strange, if not exactly lovely. Even Marisa Tomei, so physically delicate and expressively refined, seems an odd choice to play the lusty and passionate protagonist, Serafina [...]

  • Obit-Roy-B

    Former NATO President Roy B. White Dies at 93

    Roy B. White, former president and chairman of the National Association of Theater Owners, died of natural causes Oct. 11 in Naples, Fla. He was 93. White ran the 100-screen independent theater circuit, Mid–States Theaters Inc. In addition to his career, he did extensive work on behalf of charities and non-profits. He was vice president [...]

  • Soft Power review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Soft Power'

    The “culture-clash musical” is a familiar template, in which a white American protagonist — waving the flag of individuality, optimism and freedom — trumps and tramps over the complexities of that which is foreign, challenging or “other.” David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s “Soft Power,” the new “play with a musical” at Off Broadway’s Public [...]

  • Jagged Little Pill Business of Broadway

    Listen: How 'Jagged Little Pill' Will Rock Broadway

    “Jagged Little Pill” wasn’t originally written with Broadway in mind — but the songs on Alanis Morissette’s smash-hit 1995 album do exactly what good musical theater songs should do, according to the upcoming show’s creators and producers. Listen to this week’s podcast below: The team explained why on Variety‘s theater podcast, “Stagecraft,” in an episode [...]

  • Stephen Moore

    Stephen Moore, 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' Android, 'Doctor Who' Actor, Dies at 81

    Stephen Moore, best known for his roles as the paranoid android Marvin in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” radio series and the Silurian Eldane in “Doctor Who,” has died. He was 81. “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” producer Dirk Maggs confirmed Moore’s death Saturday on Twitter, writing, “Our dear friend Stephen Moore has [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content