Welcome to the French Riviera and the most glittering and notorious nightclub there, "La Cage Aux Folles". The historic Ivoryton Playhouse tackles this 1983 hit Jerry Herman musical as their August production. It won six Tony Awards for the original Broadway show and "La Cage" is the only musical to win the Tony Award for Best Revival twice. It is a flamboyant musical comedy about life, love and family values in a decidedly unconventional family. Georges runs a this glittering drag queen nightclub, starring Albin, aka known as ZaZa, Georges longtime lover. They have a happy but stormy life together, but when Georges' son announces his engagement to the daughter of a narrow-minded, bigoted politician, their efforts to "play it straight" for a meeting with the in-laws results in high insanity blended with some poignant moments along the way. The enchanting score contains twelve musical numbers including Albin's anthem for acceptance and dignity, "I Am What I Am". That is the theme of the play, just be who you are, don't change yourself to fit another person's point of view.Director Lawrence Thalen leads his talented 19 member cast with excellent direction from musical director Michael Morris and terrific inventive dances by choreographer Todd L. Underwood in this joyous musical extravaganza. Their expertise makes this one of the must see shows this summer.
The gorgeous Ivoryton Playhouse was built by the Comstack-Cheney Company as an entertainment space for its ivory factory workers in 1911. This hall was transformed into the first summer stock venue in Connecticut by Milton Stiefel in 1930 and many famous stars worked here throughout the years. One of the most famous was Katherine Hepburn who starred in 7 summer shows at the theatre in 1931. The production values of this show are of the highest quality. Lawrence blocks his performers beautifully and obtains brilliant performances from them. His presentation of the thematic statement is successful by moving the audience emotionally with the rejection of Albin by Jean Michel and later of his acceptance of him as his mother figure who raised him. These moments as well as the tender scenes between Georges and Albin make this show astounding. Michael not only conducts an eight piece orchestra but plays lead keyboards and taught the cast the beautiful score while Todd's dance numbers shine with their variety of tap, can can, jazz, ballet, splits, high kicks and somersaults.
The two leading performers James Van Treuren and David Edwards as Georges and Albin are dynamic in these parts. James plays the more masculine role of Georges who owns the nightclub and has sired a son from a one night stand with a woman. He is the emcee of the nightclub but has some lovely songs, too. They include "Song on the Sand" my favorite number when he reminisces about first meeting Albin, the tender, "Look Over There" when he reminds Jean Michel that Albin was the one who raised him for 24 years not Sybil, and "With You on My Arm", a duet with Albin. James' funniest number is "Masculinity" when he and the folks in town try to butch Albin up in the second act so he can meet the in-laws as Uncle Al. I first reviewed James in this show back in 2003 in Bridgeport and last reviewed him in "Anything Goes" at NSMT in June. David plays the more feminine role and transforms himself from Albin into ZaZa in front of the audience in "A Little More Mascara" ala Don Quixote from "Man of La Mancha". David also sings "La Cage Aux Folles" with the talented dancing Cagelles while he struts about in several evening gowns. David steals your heart in "I Am What I Am" when he throws the others offstage, singing defiantly to Georges that he will not change himself for anyone at all. At the climax of the number, he hurls his wig at Georges and storms offstage leaving the entire audience sobbing uncontrollably and cheering him on a job very well done at the end of Act 1. David displays his love for Jean-Michel by pretending to be his mother, making the young man realize the error of his way. He also sings "The Best of Times" with their friend, Jacqueline, a sassy broad who later saves the day for them. Martina Vidmar, a beautiful red headed spitfire plays this character perfectly. The show ends with James and David alone on the stage doing a reprise of "Song on the Sand" as they realize their life together will survive with their love stronger than ever.
The supporting performers live up to the high expectations of the leading players. The flamboyant, wild and crazy butler, Jacob who insists on being called the maid, is excellently played by Phil Young. His wild and crazy antics leave you in stitches as he prances around the stage, delivering his one liner zingers with panache. Jacob insists on being put into the nightclub show and he finally achieves his wish at the end of the show. Tall, dark and handsome, Zach Trimmer who always gives a 100% in every role I've seen him perform, does so again as Jean-Michel. He delivers a stunning portrayal of a young man so madly in love with a girl that he will thrust the only maternal parent he has ever known away coldly. However Zach shines in the transition to a more caring, loving boy when he realizes the errors of his ways singing "Look Over There" when he reconciles with Albin. This song left me and the whole audience in tears. His versatility shines through in this role, having seen him play Link Larkin in "Hairspray" and Danny Zuko in "Grease". Zach proves he can handle a variety of characters with ease and displays his powerful tenor voice in this poignant number and the exuberant "With Anne on My Arm". The gorgeous, blonde Allyson Webb plays Anne whom Jean Michel is smitten by. She dances in and out of "With Anne on My Arm" in Act 1 and later in the show appears with her snooty, rich parents. Allyson gives Anne a backbone to stand up to them to achieve her dreams of happiness. Zach and Allyson have great chemistry together.
The villain of the show, Dindon which means dope in French is well played by Frank Calamaro. He brings this bombastic, overbearing, chauvinistic man to life and is capably supported by Samantha Talmadge as his long suffering wife. They display their voices in "Cocktail Counterpoint" with Georges, Jacob, Jean-Michel and Anne. Samantha has a terrific soprano voice that she displays in "Best of Times". Martina Vidmar is dynamic as Jacqueline. The constantly beaten up stage manager of the La Cage show, Francis is excellently played by Conor M. Hamill. He displays his strong voice in "The Best of Times" and is a hoot as Francis. The character is constantly being beaten by his boyfriend, the whip wielding Hanna from Hamburg, hysterically played by Cameron Benda. Strong words of praise to all the Cagelles on their expert dancing abilities which are spectacular throughout this show especially in the can can and tap numbers. So for a fabulous rendition of "La Cage Aux Folles", run do not walk to the box office to see a Broadway style performance in beautiful Ivoryton, CT without having to travel to New York City. Tell them Tony sent you.