If you ask me - Tom Holehan

A SHAKY "LA CAGE" AT IVORYTON

It's a rather shaky rendering of "La Cage Aux Folles" currently in residence at the Ivoryton Playhouse. The flashy Tony Award winning musical proves a challenging project for the venerable theatre and I'm afraid it's been reduced to a tepid summer stock revival with an eye towards budget in Ivoryton.That said, there are probably enough good things in this production that will no doubt please the undemanding theatergoer.

With music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Harvey Fierstein, "La Cage Aux Folles" concerns Albin and Georges, an older gay couple who run a popular French drag club which gives the musical its name and, of which, Albin is its glorious diva and aging star. Drama occurs when Georges only son, Jean-Michel, announces his impending marriage to a girl whose father happens to be the rigid moralist, Edouard Dindon. Now running for reelection, Dindon has pledged to "clean-up" the neighborhood starting with establishments like La Cage Aux Folles. Hilarity, as they say, ensues. Or should. At Ivoryton, Lawrence Thelen has bluntly directed this farce-with-a-heart and gone for the obvious at every turn. Actors are working very hard and the sweat shows and while there are some nice voices and selected performances to enjoy, the end result is far from what this high-energy musical could be.

James Van Treuren (Georges) begins the show on a low-energy note as emcee welcoming us to La Cage with little passion or zeal. As Albin, David Edwards grows into the role by act two, but he never really convinces as the once-star of the notable drag showplace. Both men sing well enough, however, and by final curtain have demonstrated enough chemistry together that you can root for them to succeed. Zach Trimmer is a handsome Jean-Michel blessed with a fine singing voice, but the role ultimately seemed bland in his hands. A pushy Frank Calamaro as Dindon and Samantha Lane Talmadge as his brow-beaten wife don't rise much above caricatures but they have a long way to go in beating Phil Young for most-annoying-performer. Young's outlandishly unfunny take as Jacob, Georges and Albin's "butler/maid", is offensive enough to rile both the NAACP and the Gay Rights Alliance. Here is where the director needs to step in. Pronto.

Costuming is a huge part of any production of "La Cage Aux Folles" and they are somewhat lacking at Ivoryton. Njaye Olds' designs for Albin, for example, have Edwards in a series of matronly flocks that do little to define his diva status. Budget has also seemed to play a part in the costumes for La Cage's resident "chorus girls", the Cagelles, who seem more ordinary with each successive costume change. "Ordinary" is not what you want in "La Cage Aux Folles". Cully Long, though, has done fairly well with his sparkling scenic design making good use of Ivoryton's stage limitations. Todd L. Underwood's modest choreography was still being addressed by some actors at the early performance I caught but conductor Michael Morris and his small but savvy orchestra did justice to the great Jerry Herman score. Speaking of which, audience members can still enjoy that grand music at this particular production. Despite the lackluster rendering, it's hard not to tap your feet and sing-along with Mr. Herman's infectious and melodic music.

"La Cage Aux Folles" continues at the Ivoryton Playhouse through August 31. For further information or ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 860.767.7318 or visit: www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

Tom Holehan is co-founder of the Connecticut Critics Circle, Artistic Director of the Square One Theatre Company in Stratford and resident critic for WPKN-FM "State of the Arts" program. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com and his reviews are archived on www.ctcritics.org.


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