Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Fun Production of La Cage aux Folles by the Diablo Light Opera Company
The Diablo Light Opera Company is having fun at the Dean Lesher Performing Arts Center in Walnut Creek with Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein's watershed good-time musical La Cage aux Folles. The semi-professional company has pulled out all the stops to give their audience an entertaining evening with the charming love story of Albin and George, a gay couple who have raised the heterosexual biological son of George with loving care. The trouble begins when the son, Jean Michael, announces that his fiancée is the daughter of a prominent right wing, bigoted politician. To make matters worse, her parents are coming to the gay couple's house to meet the young man's "parents." What is poor Albin going to do since he is more on the effeminate side and is the starring act as the famous drag queen Zaza in George's night club called "La Cage aux Folles"?
Love finds a way in this tale of devotion, sacrifice and, yes, even the family values that exist in the gay couple's "marrage." Jerry Herman's score is a gem and the lyrics are both comical and poignant, especially on "I Am What I Am" and "The Best of Times."
La Cage opened in New York at the Palace on August 21, 1983 and ran for an amazing 1761 performances. I saw Gene Barry and George Hearne in the roles several days after the show opened, and I was happy there finally was a musical that portrayed a gay, romantic couple. (An Off-Broadway musical called Boy Meets Boy was presented in 1975 but never reached the mainstream audience.) Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein opened the doors for gay themed musicals like Rent and Falsettos. There were several road show tours of La Cage that came to the west coast with stars like Walter Charles, Van Johnson and Keith Mitchell. There have been few regional productions of the musical. It may be difficult to find eight to ten men in the local acting pool to play drag. La Cage is now being revived on Broadway and was presented in Long Beach and St. Louis last year.
This La Cage cast is wonderful, especially Peter Del Florentino as Albin. He plays the role like Nathan Lane did in Birdcage. The actor never goes over the top in the performance, and he captures the camp and compassion of the complex Albin. Del Florentino does not have a great singing voice, but what he lacks in vocal ability he makes up for in his acting. Curt Denham plays George with warmth and humor. He is a perfect straight man for Florentino. Charles Levy, just out of high school, plays Jean Michel and he has great vocal chops in his rendition of "With Anne on My Arm." Rebecca Jayne Pingee is charming as Anne the fiancée. Moka Davis also steals the show with his hilarious impersonation of the maid/butler. He is a real hoot as he camps up every scene, looking wild in his French maid outfit and later looking like a Louis XVI page boy.
Director Sue Ellen Nelsen has assembled an interesting group of drags. Undoubtedly, some have never been in drag before but they give their all doing some great numbers like the opening scene's "We Are What We Are" and later "The Best of Times." The choreography of Suzanne Brandt and Don Wilson is very energetic in "Masculinity." The orchestra, under the direction of Cheryl Yee Glass, is right on the mark. Sets by Andrea Bechert are glitzy. She uses panels that slide back and forth to change scenes.
La Cage aux Folles plays through November 6 at the Dean Lesher, Civic Dr, Walnut Creek, Ca. Tickets can be obtain by calling 925-943-SHOW or visit www.dloc.org.