Theatre Mirror Reviews - "La Cage aux Folles"

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entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"La Cage aux Folles"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The third show of Reagle Players 41st season is the 1983 hit Jerry Herman musical, "La Cage Aux Folles" which won six Tony Awards including best musical of that season and ran for 1,761 performances. "La Cage" is a flamboyant musical comedy about love 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' straight 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 unforgettable 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 David Scala brings the highest quality of Broadway standards for this show. The music direction is by Jeff Leonard and Daniel Rodriguez and their fantastic 21 member orchestra. However the most outstanding feature of this show is the brilliant choreography by David who creates numerous intricate numbers with their marvelous execution by a first rate cast. Their combined efforts make this one of the must see shows of this summer season and wins it a spontaneous standing ovation at the curtain call.

David who was in the Original Broadway cast not only directs the show but choreographs it, too and recreates Arthur Laurents original production. He surrounds himself with topnotch people from the sets to the costumes. David's blocking of this huge cast is done with ease and the true mettle of a show is in the thematic statement presentation. He 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. David's choreography shines in this show and his dance numbers include tap, jazz, soft shoe, can-can with tumbles and somersaults to name a few. (The can-can section stops the show with its excellence.) The precision of the dancers is astounding and breathtaking to watch. Bravo on a job very well done. Jeff conducts the 21 member orchestra beautifully and taught all the intricate harmonies of the songs to this talented cast. The brass soars in the uptempo numbers while the harp delivers the good in the ballads. Costumes are by Costume World Theatrical and are absolutely gorgeous especially the Cagelles and ZaZa's gowns. Stage manager Karen Parlato keeps things running smoothly especially with all the set changes blending from one scene into another with her assistant Paul Reynolds who also plays the stage manager of the La Cage show who gets beaten up by Hanna from Hamburg and her whip and as Francis, he gets to show Albin how to walk like a real man to fool the Dindons. (Paul and his lovely wife, Eileen Grace are relocating to Pittsburgh to await the birth of their twins on Oct. 13. Good luck in your new home!) The awesome and colorful multitude of sets are by David Allen Jeffrey who built them based on the original design of David Mitchell and includes the nightclub, and their home as well as Chez Jacqueline, the Renaud's Cafe and the backdrops for the St. Tropez.

Original Broadway cast members David Engel and Jamie Ross as Albin and Georges are excellent in their roles. Jamie 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. (Earlier this season Jamie played Horace in "Hello, Dolly".) He is the emcee of the club but also has some lovely songs including my personal favorite, "Song on the Sand" where he reminisces about when he first met Albin, the tender, "Look Over There" when he reminds his son that Albin is the mother figure who raised him for 20 years and not to reject him because of his fiancee's family and the rousing duet with David called "With You on My Arm" where they do a splendid soft shoe. Another song Jamie 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 part of this song is when Albin tries to act like John Wayne as a little girl.) David plays the more feminine role and does 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. David's voice soars in these numbers including another group song, "La Cage Aux Folles" but he steals your heart in the song "I Am What I Am" as he throws the others off stage and declares he will not change himself for anyone including Georges. The dramatic finish to the song happens as David rips his wig off and hurls it at Jamie as he storms off the stage into the audience. It leaves the crowd cheering him at the end of Act 1. The romantic duet reprise of "Song on the Sand" occurs near the start of Act 2 but hilarity prevails as David is a hoot with his John Wayne impersonation as the townspeople try to butch him up. Albin pretends to be Uncle Al complete with black horn-rimmed glasses where he looks like Clark Kent, but he shows his true love for Jean-Michel by pretending to be his mother, making the boy realize he was wrong to thrust him aside. David also sings "The Best of Times" with their longtime friend, Jacqueline at her restaurant and the song builds to include everyone on stage singing and dancing in it. ( Betsy Foley plays the sassy broad,Jacqueline wonderfully and it is she who saves the day later on in the show) The show ends happily with David and Jamie 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 the crowd roars their approval. (It reminds you of Louise and Rose from "Gypsy" and Max and Leo from "The Producers") Bravo!

Ivory McKay 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 as will his throwing the suitcases at Edouard in the last scene. Ivory is an excellent dancer and gets to show off his dancing prowess in the last scene. He is a hoot when he is dressed like Medea on the beach at the opening of Act 2. David Carney is fantastic as Jean-Michel with his transformation from uncaring, heartless boy into a caring, loving boy who appreciates everything Albin has done for him throughout the 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. David also shows off his beautiful singing voice in "With Anne on My Arm" when he tells his father about his upcoming wedding. Jessica Azenberg plays Anne wonderfully as she dances in and out during this song doing a soft shoe dance with David 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. David and Jessica show a lot of chemistry together in their romantic scenes, creating a couple the crowd roots for 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. R. Glen Michell who played Beau in "Mame" and Catherine Lee Christie play the overprotective parents beautifully.(She has a fantastic high soprano voice which she shows off in "The Best of Times". ) There is a very funny song called "Cocktail Counterpoint" where the parents, Anne, Jean-Michel, Georges and Jacob not only sing but keep passing obscene dishes back and forth while doing so. The funniest moment occurs when the Dindons wear dresses in the club to escape the newspaper reporters with Glen wearing cymbals on his legs under his evening gown. Paul plays the beaten up stage manager in the nightclub who dates Hanna, the whip swinging Cagelle played by Joseph Cullinane who is hysterical as this dominatrix. (He is the dance captain who keeps the dancers performing their intricate moves perfectly.) The bitchy Cagelle, Mercedes played by Matthew Kossack who demands to replace ZaZa as the head entertainer while Philip Deyesso plays Chantal who sings obligatos which range from bass to soprano and Michael Graceffa plays Phaedra who shows what her tongue can do. The other fabulous Cagelles who dance up a storm are played by Korinne Robertson, Valerie Mayne, KC Fredricks, Scott Abreaui, Courtney Grassia and Jeremy Towle. The Renauds are well played by Angela Richardson who played Ernestina in "Hello Dolly" and Mme Branislowski in "Mame" and Jean-Alfred Chavier who played Judah in "Joseph" last summer. 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" (13 - 22 August)
617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM MA
1 (781) 891-5600

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide