Regional Reviews: St. Louis
La Cage aux Folles
But where my canvas-oriented friends graduated "up" their own visual or psychological ladders, Mr. Miller, with his recently acquired co-director Mike Dowdy-Windsor, is taking a more Picasso-like approach to the stage, evolving from a dark and brooding theatricality into something unexpectedly bright, joyful and exuberant. The ferocious, anguished undertones of many of Mr. Miller's shows from the past 27 seasons are still there, better than anywhere else in town. But like King Arthur's wizard Merlin, he may have begun to age backwards over the last few seasons. As a result, the New Line impresario might have to borrow from Picasso, who grew tired of having his later work compared to a child's scrawl. The Spanish painter answered his critics saying, "It takes a long time to become young."
So when New Line Theatre sets aside its Sondheim and puts on a bright and florid Jerry Herman show like 1983's La Cage aux Folles, Mr. Miller's expertise tempers the entire projectunderpinning a delirious drag fantasia with moments that can be heartbreakingly grim, and which are deeply authentic. And by making the lows so resonant, the high moments gain an almost crystalline clarity.
Thanks to music director Nicolas Valdez, choreographers Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack, and the back-up singers (Les Cagelles) on stage, La Cage still sings and dances and shrieks like mad. At the center of it all, Zachary Allen Farmer is deftly captivating as the torrid Albin/Zaza, who must renounce his own artistic life-statement so that a son may enter the into next phase of his own life.
Robert Doyle is an adept singer as Georges, as well as a stable other half for Albin in a twenty-year relationship. As their son, Kevin Corpuz is likable even in his most homophobic moments as Jean-Michel, in love with Anne (charming Zora Vredeveld, in an underwritten role). Tielere Cheatem turns our focus to perfectly flamboyant comedy again and again as the butler/maid Jacob, and powerhouse singer Lindsey Jones pops in occasionally as a neighborhood restaurateur. Always excellent Kent Coffel turns right-wing hate into its own kind of drag as Jean-Michel's prospective father-in-law Edouard Dindon, and Mara Bollini perfectly echoes his comic rhythms as long-suffering Mrs. Dindon.
Of course, this all comes down to us from a time when singing, dancing transvestites were not the fierce, glamorous, post-modern super-vixens we see on "RuPaul's Drag Race." The 1978 French film (based on the 1973 play) captured the light-hearted, frowsy roots of modern drag in the seaside resort of San Tropez. In 1983, the glittery Jerry Herman/Harvey Fierstein Broadway musical became instantly iconic (as an anthem against Reaganism and the AIDS crisis), winning six Tony Awards, but seemed to grow more ornate with each passing revival.
However, a show like this looks best (to me) in these slightly ghastly gowns, like the ones we used to see on stage at bars like Faces in East St. Louis, or the Front Page in the Soulard neighborhood, thanks to costumer (and wig wrangler) Sarah Porter. As a result, in this case, Mr. Miller isn't the only one "aging backwards."
La Cage aux Folles, through March 23, 2019, at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.newlinetheatre.com.
The New Line Band: