Whether he’s wearing an evening gown or just Andrew Christian underwear, Nick Cearley gets tens across the board. Half of the Skivvies, a performance duo that strips down to play stripped-down covers of pop songs, the gay actor now makes his off-Broadway debut in a revival of Pageant, which features male actors as female beauty pageant contestants. The campy musical comedy opens tonight and runs through October 26 at the Davenport Theatre. We spoke with Cearley about why he’s always dressed for success.
The Advocate: Tell me about your character, Miss Great Plains.
Nick Cearley: Bonnie Louise Cutlett is the most underqualified of all the contestants in the Miss Glamouresse Pageant. She didn’t win or even place in her region, but no one else was available.
What’s her talent?
Writing and acting her own material. Bonnie Louise is talented at her strengths, but she’s not a seasoned pro like the others, so I think that’s her challenge. She definitely gets an A for effort. She’s like the Rose Nylund of the group — she does the best she can with what she’s been given to work with.
Is this your first time in drag?
It was when I first did Pageant in 2008 at the Stoneham Theatre, just outside of Boston. I didn’t realize how hard women have it. It’s so much work.
Would you say that you make a pretty woman?
Nope. [Laughs] The script actually says that Miss Great Plains is not the prettiest contestant, and I pretty much take that and run with it. But she’s having the best day of her life.
Has the cast gotten any tips from professional drag queens?
Well, the creators of the show specifically wanted these roles to be played by male actors dressed as women, not by drag queens — there’s a difference — to maintain the show’s sincerity. So we got tips from some real female pageant winners and runners-up. But we did get a tucking lesson from Bob the Drag Queen, who is notable around New York. Our director wants us to be tucked as much as possible. It’s a struggle, because every boy is different.
Which is more challenging — tucking or high heels?
The high heels really hurt! I didn’t expect to have so much pain in my lower back. Fortunately, I only have to tuck for the swimsuit competition, because my other costumes aren’t that revealing.