"La Cage aux Folles"

by Stu Brown

When the musical La Cage aux Folles opened on Broadway in 1983 it was seen as a risky and daring piece of theater. The show focused on an overtly gay couple running a nightclub in the south of France that featured drag entertainment. Over 30 years later, the storyline of La Cage seems tame and somewhat old-fashioned, but this joyous and celebratory production, playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through September 10th, is still provocative and captivating.

The show follows the carefree lives of Georges (James Lloyd Reynolds) and Albin (Jamison Stern) at their apartment above the nightspot as well as the gaiety and performances within the cabaret setting. Their “maid” Jacob (Cedric Leiba, Jr.) is a preening handful. Everything in their lives is running smoothly until George’s 24-year-old son (from a one-night tryst) Jean-Michel (Conor Ryan) arrives home, announcing his engagement. Before a celebration can commence he tells his papa that the father of the bride is the infamous Edouard Dindon (Mark Zimmerman), head of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party whose stated goals is to close the local drag clubs. To complicate matters he has invited his future in-laws to dinner at their apartment. Jean-Michel pleads with his father to keep Albin, the man who helped raise him, away for just the night.  Indignant and hurt, Albin obliges until fate steps in, entangling both families in hilarity and hi-jinks.

The full cast is in fine form, but the show is really a showcase for the actors playing Georges, Albin, Jacob and the notorious Cagelles that are both the lead-in act and back-up singers for the renowned ZaZa. James Lloyd Reynolds gives Georges an understated dignity as he tries to placate his lifelong partner and the situation rendered by his son. Cedric Leiba, Jr. as the manservant Jacob is the comic jewel of the production with his outrageous outfits and discontented whine. Sometimes his performance can be a bit over-the-top, but his shenanigans always leave a smile on the audience’s faces. Jamison Stern’s Albin is, at first, a one-dimensional overwrought entertainer. Slowly, as the plot develops, his character becomes more nuanced and impassioned, which climaxes with the Act I finale, “I Am What I Am.” In order for the audience to connect with Albin, Jamison Stern has to bring off a stirring rendition of the song, which the actor more then delivers. The Cagelles, seven men performing in drag within the musical’s nightclub locale, are engaging, athletic and just a bit campy as they strut, dance and sashay across the stage.

The score by Jerry Herman, his last for the Broadway stage, contains some of his strongest work. They include “With You on My Arm,” “I Am What I Am,” “The Best of Times,” and “La Cage Aux Folles.” They can be poignant and sentimental without being cloying. The best of the songs consistently conveys an emotional intimacy that celebrates individuality and loving relationships.

Rob Ruggiero, one of the best musical theater directors working in the state, has put together a highly polished production, which is both outrageous and touching. He takes all the components of the musical, adding a bit of glitz and understanding, to form an entertaining and cohesive whole. The director also successfully focuses our attention on the relationship between Georges and Albin. The musical cannot succeed without the portrayal of a strong bond between the two men.

Ralph Perkins’ choreography is flashy, smart and energetic. He gives the Cagelles quite a workout. Michael McDonald has a field day with the numerous costume designs, primarily, for the Cagelless. They are fancy, frivolous and colorful.

La Cage Aux Folles, more family oriented than not, playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through September 10th.

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