Theatre Mirror Reviews - "La Cage Aux Folles"

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entire contents copyright 2007 by Tony Annicone

"La Cage Aux Folles"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The first show of The Community Players 87th season and their 322 production 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 Za Za, Georges long time lover. They have a happy but stormy life together, but when Georges' son 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 called "I Am What I Am" which is the theme of the play to be who you are and not to change yourself to fit another person's point of view. Director Marcia Zammerelli picks 25 multitalented to fill these roles while musical director, Esther Zabinski plays the piano for the show and leads her 3 fellow members of the band. Choreographer Peter Deffet creates some fantastic and intricate dance numbers for the nimble and energetic Cagelles. Their combined efforts produce a first rate show which garners a standing ovation as its reward at the end of the night.

Marcia not only directs the show but created almost all of the gorgeous costumes, too. Za Za's gowns are especially fantastic. The combination of comic and poignant moments is very effective with the pathos of 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. These scenes move you to tears. Esther not only leads her band but taught the beautiful harmonies of the songs to the cast. Peter's many dance numbers include jazz, soft shoe, chorus line, can-can with tumbles and somersaults. The dancers execute them very well and they not only use the stage area but the aisles of the theatre, too. Brian Mulvey designed the pink marble set apartment and purple art deco set for the nightclub. "Sound design is by Dan Fisher with lighting design by Robert Ferland, Jr. Brian Mulvey spent over 25 hours and Dan Fisher spent another 8 hours creating the La Cage Aux Folles logo above the proscenium. Great job!!

The two leads, Bill Whitehead Jr. and John Charette as Albin and Georges are excellent in their roles. John plays the more masculine role of Georges who owns a nightclub and has sired a son from a one night stand with a British woman named Sybil. He is the emcee of the club but he also has some lovely songs including my personal favorite "Song on the Sand" where he reminisces about when he met Albin, the tender, "Look Over There" when he reminds his son that Albin is the mother figure who raised him for over 20 years and not to reject him because of his fiancee's family and the rousing duet with Bill called "With You on My Arm" while they do a splendid soft shoe. Another song John sings the lead in, is the hilarious "Masculinity" where Georges and the townspeople try to butch Albin up to meet the in-laws. (The funniest bit in this segment is when Albin tries act like John Wayne as a little girl.) Bill plays the more feminine role doing a fabulous job capturing the sympathy of the crowd with his extremely likeable portrayal. He transforms himself in front of the audience from Albin to ZaZa in his first number called "A Little More Mascara" and the Cagelles join him on the chorus after his transformation. Bill's voice soars in these numbers including the another group song, "La Cage Aux Folles" but he steals your heart in his "I Am What I Am" song as he throws the others off stage and declares in his song that he will not change himself for anyone including Georges. The dramatic finish to the song happens as Bill rips his wig off and hurls it at Georges as he storms off through the audience. It leaves the crowd cheering him at the close of Act 1. The romantic duet between Georges and Albin occurs near the start of Act 2 but hilarity prevails as Bill is a hoot when he does his John Wayne impersonation. He pretends to be Uncle Al but shows his true love for Jean-Michel by pretending to be his mother, making the boy realize that he was wrong to thrust him aside. Bill also sings "The Best of Times" with their longtime friend, Jacqueline at her restaurant and the song builds to include everyone on stage both singing and dancing to it. (Laurea Osborne plays this sassy broad wonderfully and it is she who saves the day later on in the show.) The show ends with Bill and John onstage alone singing 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. They leave through the audience as the crowd roars their approval. Bravo.

Robert Gruslin Jr. is very funny as the flamboyant butler, Jacob who wants to be known as Claudine, the maid. His many comic lines and hysterical costumes including a Carmen Miranda outfit at the end of the show will have you roaring with laughter. Michael Hammond is excellent as Jean-Michel as he turns into a more thoughtful, caring boy after he realizes everything Albin has done for him throughout these many years. Michael sings the emotional ballad, "Look Over There'' when he realizes the error of his ways, making you cry with his tender rendition. He also shows off his beautiful tenor voice in "With Anne on My Arm" when he tells his father about his upcoming nuptials. Jennifer Drummond plays Anne wonderfully as she dances in and out during this song. She later gives the character a backbone when she stands up to her snooty parents when they try to convince her not to marry Jean-Michel. Anne's parents Edouard and Marie Dindon appear in the second act where they take the stage by storm by entering by being announced by Jacob. Steven Pacheco and Leslie Choquette play the overprotective parents beautifully. They get a chance to show off their singing voices in a funny song called "Cocktail Counterpoint". One of the funnies scenes occurs when they have to wear dresses to escape the press. Kevin Broccoli plays the constantly beaten up stage manager in the nightclub who dates Hanna, the whip swinging Cagelle played by Jennifer Selke who is hysterical as this dominatrix. The overbearing, bitchy Cagelle, Mercedes is played by Andrew Bobola who is hilarious as this mini diva who demands to replace ZaZa as the head entertainer. Alex DeValles-Vieira plays Chantal who sings obligatos which range from bass to soprano. (He also plays a jealous boyfriend named Hercule.) Kudos to all the Cagelles and cast for their talented portrayals of all the roles in this show. So for a wonderful rendition of this Tony Award winning show be sure to catch "La Cage Aux Folles" before time runs out.

"La Cage Aux Folles" (16 November - 2 December)
Jenks Auditorium, Division Street, PAWTUCKET RI
1 (401)726-6860

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide