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La Cage aux Folles
Albuquerque Little Theatre

Also see Dean's review of Venus in Fur


Ron Bronitsky and Dean Eldon Squibb
Thirty years old now, La Cage aux Folles has lost a lot of its provocativeness, because we have grown up along with it. There is not much shock value in seeing two men who have been married for 20 years and have raised a child, or in seeing guys in drag. Most of today's audience accepts this as no big deal, and those who still find it repugnant are not likely to come to see this show in the first place.

So the question now becomes: Is this show worth reviving? My answer is a qualified "Yes." La Cage is not one of the great musicals. It isn't even one of the great Jerry Herman musicals (Hello, Dolly and Mame have it beat). But still it's fun, and when the performers give it everything they've got, as they do in the Albuquerque Little Theatre production, it's well worth revisiting.

There are a few memorable songs: "I Am What I Am" has become a gay pride anthem; "The Best of Times" is catchy but seems to have escaped from Cabaret, where its irony would have been more appropriate; and the title song is a cancan worthy of Offenbach. There are a couple of touching songs that have never become famous: "Song on the Sand" and "Look Over There." And there are a couple duds: "Masculinity," in which Georges tries to teach Albin to act like a "man," and a sextet about some scandalous "Dishes" both fall flat for me.

I'm not sure what exactly Harvey Fierstein contributed to the book that was not already in the French play by Jean Poiret, but one thing he did not contribute was sparklingly witty dialogue in English. Not everyone can be a Wilde or Shaw or even Coward, but a few bons mots would have livened up the dryish patches between songs.

In any case, this production does an excellent job with the material. Director Henry Avery has put together an impressive creative team and group of actors, and keeps the action hopping, except when it appropriately should slow down. A lot of credit goes to Colby Martin Landers for the ingenious set design which wastes no time at all between scene changes. Likewise to Ryan Jason Cook, the stage manager, and all the backstage people.


Dean Eldon Squibb and the Cagelles
The costumes by Joe Moncada and Carolyn Hogan are amazing for being done on a not very big budget, I assume. Larry Joseph Aguilar's choreography asks an awful lot of the Cagelles, the guys in drag, and they really put it over. The band directed by HollyBeth Williams and William W. Williams is spot-on, and it's a shame we never get to see them (there is no orchestra pit in this theater, so the musicians are hidden off-stage).

The Cagelles all deserve their names in print: Jonte Culpepper, Ty Shoemake, Andrew Melendez, Joey Grider, James Camacho, and Roan "Ro" Velasco (no female ringers in this cast). They are so unbelievably energetic in their numbers, especially the title song, that they leave the audience worn out, but they themselves never flag. Ahhh, youth. Joe Moncada as the butler/maid steals the stage every time he/she steps onto it.

Apart from them, the show really belongs to Georges and Albin, the loving couple at the center of the mayhem. Ron Bronitsky as Georges is a better than average singer and he gets real emotion out of the two previously-mentioned songs. The tour de force role, though, is Albin (drag name, Zaza), who gets to wear some fabulous gowns and gets the anthemic closing number for the first act. Dean Eldon Squibb owns this role now. He played it several years ago for a different musical theater company, and time has only made him better. More mature, more sympathetic, and still with a terrific voice. (And I liked the glimpse of Bette Davis, his signature character.)

You can tell that an awful lot of effort went into putting on this show, by everyone involved, and the audience certainly appreciated it. Almost any production that is very well done is worth seeing, and this is one of them.

La Cage aux Folles, a musical by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein, is being presented at the Albuquerque Little Theatre through March 24, 2013. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00. Info at www.albuquerquelittletheatre.org or 505-242-4750.


Photos: Billy Nguyen

--Dean Yannias



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