Theatre Mirror Reviews - "La Cage Aux Folles"

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entire contents copyright 2004 by Tony Annicone

"La Cage Aux Folles"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Academy Player's third show of their 48th season is the 1983 hit Jerry Herman musical, 'La Cage Aux Folles" which won six Tony awards including best musical of that season. "La Cage" is a flamboyant musical comedy about love, life and family values in a decidedly unconventional family. Georges runs a notorious and glittering drag queen nightclub, starring Albin, aka ZaZa, Georges' long time lover. They have a happy if stormy life together, but when Georges' spm announces his engagement to the daughter of a bigoted narrow-minded politician, their efforts to "play it straight" for a meeting with the in-laws, result in high insanity mixed with some wonderfully poignant moments along the way. The enchanting score contains fourteen musical numbers including Albin's unforgetable 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 Michael Farrelly brings the highest quality of Broadway like standards to this show as does musical director Steve DeCesare who not only taught this score to the talented 19 member cast but also plays the keyboards with his seven piece orchestra. However the most outstanding feature of this show is the brilliant choreography by Sarah Bilofsky who creates numerous intricate numbers with their fantastic execution by a first rate cast. Their combined efforts make this one of the must see shows of this season.

Michael is a consumate professional who surrouds himself with topnotch people when he directs a show. From the sets to the costumes to the wigs to lighting and sound, everthing blends together perfectly. His blocking of this huge cast is done with ease and the true mettle of a show is in the thematic statement presentation. Michael accomplishes this by moving the audience to tears several times including the pathos you feel in Jean-Michel's rejection and later acceptance of Albin as the person (mother figure) who raised him as well as in the tender scenes between Georges and Albin. Bravo for making me cry in this mostly humorous show. The orchestra led by Steve fills the theater with beautiful music from the overture to the finale and his direction of the cast shines through in all the numbers, too. Sarah not only choreographs this show but also plays one of the Cagelles. Her dances include so many different kinds of varieties including jazz, soft shoe, can-can with tumbles and somersaults to name a few. The precision of the dancers and steps is astounding and breathtaking to watch. Brava to Sarah on an enormous job well done. The pink marble set and other set pieces are by Tony Prichard while the gorgeous and numerous costumes are by Donald Dallaire. (Both of them are also in the show.) The multitude of wigs and makeup are by Allison Kantrowich, Bebe Hayes, Debbie Harrington and Salon Bianco while Ben Scheff runs the sound and Dennis Poulliot designed the lighting changes for the show from the ensemble numbers to the intimate ones. Kudos to all the stage managers and other techies who make this a show to be very proud of, too.

The two leads, Neil Santoro and Wayne Alan Hawkins as Georges and Albin do a dynamite job in their roles. Neil 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 his club but he also has some lovely songs, too including "Song on the Sand" when he remininces about the first time he met Albin (one of my favorites) the tender,"Look Over There" when he reminds his son that Albin raised him for 20 years so he should not reject him because of his fiancee's family and the rousing duet with Albin called "With You On My Arm". Neil and Wayne do a splendid soft shoe while singing this song. Another song Neil sings the lead in is the very funny number, "Masculinity" where Georges and the townspeople try to butch Albin up to meet the in-laws. It's also a comic dance number full of punching moves to get Albin to act manly. Wayne plays the more feminine role and does a fabulous job capturing the sympathy of the crowd with his likeable portrayal. He transforms himself in front of the audience from Albin to ZaZa in his first number, "A Little More Mascara" which reminds you of when Cervantes turns himself into Don Quixote in "Man of La Mancha" onstage. Wayne's voice soars when he sings with the Cagelles in their many numbers but he steals your heart in his "I Am What I Am" song. He throws the others off stage and declares in his song that he will not change himself for anyone, including Georges. The dramatic finish happens when he throws his wig at Georges feet in defiance, leaving the audience cheering him at the close of the first act. In the second act, Wayne is a hoot when he walks and talks like John Wayne as he pretends to be Uncle Al but he shows his true love for Jean-Michel by pretending to be his mother, making the boy realize that he was wrong to try to thrust him aside. Wayne also sings "The Best of Times" with their longtime friend, Jacqueline at her restaurant and the song builds to include everyone on stage. (Betty Nolan plays this sassy broad wonderfully and it is she who saves the day later on in the show.) The show ends with Neil and Wayne alone on the stage doing a reprise of "Song on the Sand" leaving you with a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye as they realize their life together will survive and their love will continue as strongly as before. Bravo.

Mark Smith is a hoot as the flamboyant butler, Jacob who wants to be known as Claudine, the maid. His many funny one liners and hysterical costumes will leave you roaring with laughter. Ryan Romanowski is wonderful as Jean-Michel with his transformation from uncaring, heartless boy in love to a caring, loving boy who appreciates everything Albin has done for him these many years. He sings the emotional ballad, "Look Over There" when he realizes the error of his ways and makes you cry with his tender rendition of this number. Ryan also shows off his beautiful singing voice in "With Anne on My Arm" when he tells his father about his upcoming wedding. Bianca DiSarro plays Anne wonderfully as she dances in and out during this song and shows the character's backbone when she stands up to her snooty parents when they try to convince her not to marry Jean-Michel. Ryan and Bianca show a lot of chemistry together in their romantic scenes, creating a couple the crowd roots on to get together. Anne's parents Edouard and Mme. Dindon appear in the second act where they take the stage by storm with their entrance. Carl DeSimone and Mary Paolino play the overprotective parents beautifully. (There is a very funny song called "Cocktail Counterpoint" where Carl, Mary, Bianca, Mark, Neil and Ryan not only sing but keep passing obscene dishes back and forth while doing so.) The funniest moment occurs when the Dindon's wear dresses in the club to escape newspaper reporters. (Mary also doubles in the first act as a Carol Burnett look alike with a cigarette in her mouth while bringing costumes and feathers on and off the stage.) Tony Prichard plays the beaten up stage manager in the nightclub who dates Hanna, the whip swinging Cagelle played by Gary Jacques who is hysterical as this dominatrix. The bitchy Cagelle, Mercedes is played by Ian Richardson who is hilarious as this mini diva who demands to replace ZaZa as the head entertainer. The fantastic Cagelles who dance up a storm with Sarah, Gary and Ian are Carol Allen, Donald Dallaire, Ashley Evron, Steve Hartley, G. Jussaume, Allison Kantrowich, Steve Michelson (who shows off his very long tongue with hilarious results) Patrick Poole (who sings obligatos which bore the other drag queens) Tom Renaud, Lauren Steingold and Diana Truesdale. Rounding out this huge cast is Rick Braun, Bethany and Rosemary Giammarco, Bob DeMattio, Bebe Hayes and Stephanie Traversa who perform many different roles in the show.

So for a superior musical in Rhode Island, be sure to see "La Cage" before time runs out. Congratulations and have a very successful run.

"La Cage Aux Folles" ( 22 April - 2 May)
Greenwich Odeum, 59 Main Street, EAST GREENWICH R I
1 (401) 885-6910

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide