La Cage aux Folles
Also see David's recent review of Arms and the Man
Feathers, frills, and a frolic of a good (and gay) old time await at Village Theatre's season ending production of the Jerry Herman/Harvey Fierstein musical version of La Cage aux Folles. Village artistic director Steve Tomkins, who knows more than a little about this kind of flashy showmanship from his Vegas chorus boy beginnings, has assembled an ideal cast that gives one hundred and ten percent at all times. Add in handsome sets by Carey Wong, flamboyant and fabulous costumes by Karen Ledger, and a superb lighting design by Peter Bracilano, and you have what may qualify as this company's most accomplished production ever.
Since the French film of La Cage came out in the early eighties, acceptance of gay themed material has become happily commonplace. But the fact is there was nothing terribly controversial about La Cage to begin with. Indeed, as some critics pointed out at length when this musical originally ran on Broadway, this tale has many parallels with Mame, another stage to screen to Broadway hit by Jerry Herman, in that both shows portray a young man who boorishly rejects, then humbly accepts and embraces the free-spirited lifestyle of his adopted Mother. Of course Mother in this case is Albin, a heart-on-his-ruffled-sleeve female impersonator better known as Zaza. Albin and his lover Georges, who owns the St. Tropez club of the title, have raised Georges' son Jean-Michel (the result of one night of straight abandon on Georges' part), who now comes to them with a fiancée raised by a pompous and prejudiced politico. The pair and their outlandish maid/butler Jacob revamp their kitschy gay surroundings into near cathedral-like austerity in preparation for the future in-laws' visit, and attempt to revamp Albin, as well, into a more masculine fellow. But when Jean-Michel's mother proves a no-show, Albin is called upon to impersonate her, setting up the farcical, but definitely happy ending.
As Albin/Zaza, Richard Gray is rather a revelation. This multitalented fellow has spent most of the past decade in Seattle behind the scenes, writing and directing and musical directing, but he steps into Zaza's high heels with authority, expert timing, a brassy Broadway vocal style, and the right amount of compassion to make us really care about this character. His act one closer, "I Am What I Am," is a musical theatre tour-de-force a la "Rose's Turn" in Gypsy, and in Gray's expert interpretation builds carefully to the point of a well deserved ovation as the curtain falls. Hugh Hastings as Georges makes a dashing gay straight man for Gray's antics, and his rich baritone suits the more plaintive and dramatic Herman numbers like "Song On The Sand" and "Look Over There" quite agreeably. Stanley Perryman comes close to stealing every scene he's in as Jacob, the outlandish domestic who longs for his turn in the spotlight (and rest assured, he gets it), and Perryman wisely tones down the character's screechier and more strident aspects, making him a lovable camp cohort for Gray's Zaza.
Joshua Bott and Amanda Paulson, saddled with the young lover roles of Jean-Michel and Anne, look good and sing prettily, which is about all the authors ask of them, but they are repeatedly shoved into the background by showier characters such as Anthony Curry's hilariously pompous and pinch-faced politician Dindon and Connie Corrick as his browbeaten wife. Bobbi Kotula, with far too little to do as rival nightclub owner Jacqueline, informs her every moment onstage with comic authority, in addition to lending her vibrant voice to the show's rousing eleven o'clock production number, "The Best of Times." And special mention must be made of the men and ladies who backup Gray as the Cagelles chorines. This ensemble performs Tomkins' energetic choreography with total commitment. A special nod must surely go to the comically inventive Greg Allen as the whip-wielding Hanna and Aaron Shanks' deliciously dopey Phaedra.
All of the above is supported by musical director Bruce Monroe at the baton of a sensational orchestra. In short, rush to the Village Theatre, where the best of times is most definitely now!
La Cage aux Folles runs at The Village Theatre in Issaquah, Washington, through June 23, followed by a run at the Everett Performing Arts Center July 12-28. Fore more information visit the Village Theatre website at www.villagetheatre.org