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Minneapolis by Ed Huyck

Minneapolis Musical Theatre,
La Cage Aux Folles

La Cage aux Folles
Kevin Hansen (Zaza) and the Cagelles: Lisa Bark, Catherine Battocletti, Fran Benjamin, Emily Brooke Hansen, Brian Kess, Bart Ruff and Edward Williams Jr.
Whenever a revival of La Cage aux Folles is presented, one of the questions that pops up is simply: Is the story still relevant? After all, the source material is decades old and based on old clichés about gay and transgendered men. And, anyway, aren't people used to seeing two men together in a relationship?

Then I caught a bit of a speech by one of Minnesota's own Deputy Dindon ­ in this case, our governor, Tim Pawlenty ­ listing all that he was against, and gay marriage was one of his key planks.

So, yes, still relevant, with a message about loving people for who they are, instead of who we want them to be, behind all the spangly costumes and big production numbers. And that's a message that comes through loud and clear in the Minneapolis Music Theatre's production, which opened last week.

After a pair of hit film versions and the stage productions, the story of La Cage Aux Folles is fairly familiar ­ a non-traditional family butts heads with a very traditional one when their children announce their intention to wed. This news throws the household of Georges and Albin (who performs as the fabulous Zaza) into a tizzy, since son Jean-Michel is sure that his beloved's parents won't understand that 1) his parents are in show business, owning and starring in an infamous nightclub, and 2) his parents are, in the words of the play, "one transvestite and one plain homosexual."

Jean-Michel's plot is to hide his parents by transforming his gay father into a straight man, inviting the biological mother who has not been a part of his life and getting rid of his true mother, Albin, for the day. Albin, however, has other ideas.

While most versions of the story ­ on stage or in film ­ have played the story mainly for the farce, the musical's creators, Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman, had more subversive ideas in mind. Behind all the humor and glitter (more on that in a moment), the two focus on the real love that exists between Georges and Albin, and the very real pain that Jean-Michel's plot causes.

But enough subtext, La Cage Aux Folles lives and breathes off of Herman's over-the-top yet catchy score and the ability for a production to bring the gaudy excesses of the titular nightclub to life. The MMT folks tackle the first with great gusto and, despite a limited budget, do a fine job with the second.

Taking the leads are the company's two head men ­ Artistic Director Steven J. Meerdink as Georges and Executive Director Kevin Hansen as Albin/Zaza. Though a bit young for the parts, the two do a fine job of inhabiting their roles and creating the chemistry needed to bring the longstanding relationship between the two to life. Meerdink brings a nice vulnerability to his songs, whether courting Albin ("With You On My Arm"), trying to win back his love ("Song on the Sand"), or lecturing his son about who his true mother is ("Look Over There").

Hansen, along with looking very good in a dress, creates a quite nuanced creator as Albin, pouring Albin's weariness into "Mascara" and his absolute rage at his partner's and son's betrayal in one of the show's signature tunes, "I Am What I Am."

Much of the rest of the production rests on the broad shoulders of the Cagelles, the show's tranny chorus line. MMT uses a mix of men and women. The seven performers are obviously having a ball throughout the show, transforming their key moments ­ the opening "We Are What We Are" and the extended dance in the show's title piece ­ into joyful and brilliant set pieces.

The balance of the cast is there to advance the plot or offer comic relief, though Robbie McNamee stands out as the couple's wannabe performer/butler/maid Jacob.

In the end, MMT's La Cage Aux Folles succeeds because, behind all of the sparkly costumes (designed by the very hardworking Meerdink), director Eric Johnson and the cast understand what's truly important about the show ­ the relationship and the true love that rests at the center of the story. That will never be outdated.

La Cage Aux Folles runs through June 25 at Hennepin Stages, 824 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. For information and tickets, call Ticketmaster at 651-989-5151 or visit www.aboutmmt.org.

-- Ed Huyck


Photo: Roy Blakey Photography


- Ed Huyck



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