"La Cage Aux Folles": 'The Best of Times' at Goodspeed

By Amy J. Barry

The Goodspeed Opera House is best known for reviving classic musicals and so you know you’re on the way to becoming a bit of an antique yourself, when La Cage aux Folles -- a multiple Tony Award-winning musical that hit Broadway in 1987 and had a Broadway revival in 2004 -- is considered a classic.

That said, what a terrific production this is, directed in typically across-the-board topnotch style by Rob Ruggiero.

Boasting marvelous music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Harvey Fierstein, the show (based on a 1973 play of the same name by Jean Poiret), is about a gay “old married” couple -- Georges, the manager and MC of a Saint-Tropez drag nightclub and Albin, who performs as the star attraction, Zaza.

The conflict and subsequent focus of the action arises when their straight son, Jean-Michel, announces that he’s getting married and that his fiancé’s father, Edouard Dindon, is a staunch right wing homophobic -- head of the “Tradition, Family and Morality Party.” Jean-Michel wants the flamboyant Albin to make himself scarce during a dinner with the Dindons; imploring Georges to let his absent biological mother (Albin raised Jean-Michel) stand in for the charade.

So, although we’ve advanced light years since the show first opened -- with the recent Supreme Court ruling making gay marriage legal nationwide -- at the same time, we haven’t gotten rid of the self righteous Dindons, who continue to loudly claim that marriage is for “one man and one woman,” making the musical as relevant as ever.

Among the many fine performances—Jamison Stern as Albin is unarguably what makes this show glitter and glow beyond the cabaret lights and costumes.

It is a Shakespearean moment when he belts out “I am What I Am” at the end of Act One after learning about Jean-Michel’s plan to “dismiss” him so easily, the man who raised him as his own son, simply for social protocol. The passion and authenticity Stern brings to this number is awesome.

Although the musical has its share of cliched and trite moments, Stern brings out the complexity of his character—both silly and serious. It’s hard to believe that this is Stern’s first time performing in this role, this musical -- he really gives Nathan Lane (who plays the part in the movie version, The Birdcage ) a run for his money.

James Lloyd Reynolds is quite comfortable as Georges and brings out the deep affection he and Albin have for each other while torn between pleasing his only son and appeasing his life partner. In an emotional moment he defends Albin, imploring Jean-Michel to appreciate all Albin has done for him in the tune “Look Over There.”

Particularly funny is a scene in which they agree that Albin can attend the dinner as “Uncle Al” and Georges tries to teach him to eat a piece of toast the way John Wayne would -- a sort of gay take on My Fair Lady.

Conor Ryan gives a solid performance as Jean-Michel -- considering what an annoyingly naive character he’s playing. He sings a sweet rendition of “With Anne on My Arm,” followed by Georges’ and Albin’s duet, “With You on My Arm.”

Kristen Martin as Jean-Michel’s charming fiance; Mark Zimmerman as Edouard Dindon, her blustering father; and Stacey Scotte as Marie Dindon, her doormat mother (who eventually finds her voice), all do a good job in their rather one-dimensional roles.

Cedric Leiba, Jr. is a hoot as Jacob, who for the Dindon’s arrival, alternates between sexy maid and Edwardian butler in ridiculously over-the-top costumes. His facial expressions are hysterical. But the role as written is irksome in that it paints such a shallow, stereotypical portrait of a gay man -- one of the aspects of the musical that feels dated and out of touch.

Sue Mathys plays the take-charge Jacqueline, owner of Chez Jacqueline, a loyal friend of the cabaret family as confirmed in the lively number “The Best of Times” that she sings with Albin and the patrons of the cafe.

The company -- Les Cagelles -- are outstanding dancers. Choreographed by Ralph Perkins, their athleticism and energy and ballet-like moves are a treat for the eye...as are Michael Schweikardt’s extravagant sets that range from the glittery cabaret stage to Georges’ and Albin's apartment replete with Greek male statues, a pink leather settee and pink quilted walls...and, Michael McDonald’s gorgeous array of ever-changing costumes.

And, a shout out is also in order for John Lasiter’s rich, mood-setting lighting and Mark Adam Rampmeyer’s hair, wig and makeup design, which plays a large role in this production.

Performances of La Cage aux Folles continue through Sept. 10 at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. For tickets call the box office at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org

This review appears in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com and theday.com.

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