If you ask me - Tom Holehan
"LA CAGE" Satisfies Big Time at Goodspeed
I’ve seen more mediocre revivals of “La Cage Aux Folles”, the 1983 Tony Award winning musical by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein, than I care to recall so I wasn’t especially anxious to trek to the Goodspeed Opera House to see their take on the oft-produced show. I should have known better. Goodspeed can usually be counted on to deliver the goods and director Rob Ruggiero has always managed to put a fresh spin on familiar material. The results are quite merry in East Haddam, dear readers. This “La Cage” may be the best I’ve witnessed since that original Broadway smash!
Based on the play by Jean Poiret which was the basis for the delicious 1978 French film, the Broadway “La Cage” was a daring choice at its time but seems almost quaint by today’s standards. What with Caitlin Jenner breaking ground and the Supreme Court supporting gay marriage, the trials and tribulations of long-time couple Georges and Albin running a St. Tropez drag club called “La Cage Aux Folles” seems almost incidental. Luckily Jerry Herman was in top form for this crowd-pleaser and his score still keeps audiences humming with a book by Mr. Fierstein that has them in stitches.
At Goodspeed, director Ruggiero knows that character is key and, as he proved by dusting off musical war horses like “Camelot”, “Show Boat” and “Fiddler on the Roof” for Goodspeed, he has concentrated on his central couple in “La Cage Aux Folles” making them real people - or as “real” as musical comedy can allow. He also is fortunate to have two terrific actors in those central roles.
Debonair James Lloyd Reynolds as Georges and the delirious Jamison Stern as Albin could simply not be better and share chemistry on stage that is palpable. Their duets together become lovely expressions between a couple that has lived and loved a very long time and know each other all too well. They are superb. Stern may be even better than that. In the flashier role of faded drag queen Albin, he finds the humanity beneath the sequins. Early in the show he sings “A Little More Mascara” and manages to make the song the true transformation it is and his powerhouse rendering of the musical’s gay anthem, “I Am What I Am”, has seldom been performed with more raw feeling or power. It’s a genuine show-stopper.
Some minor caveats. Playing Georges’ son (conceived during a one-time fling) Conor Ryan is somewhat bland in the role but he’s not nearly as offensive as Cedric Leiba, Jr. playing Georges and Albin’s flamboyant manservant, Jacob. It’s true the role begs for outrageousness, but this particular actor has been allowed far too much latitude. This is a minority opinion, to be sure, since the audience cheered his every extreme, over-acted, upstaging moment. But I found it awful. Simply awful. Even flamboyance needs dignity and Leiba projects zero dignity on stage.
Those issues aside, there is very little here that will displease most theatergoers. Michael McDonald spares no expense on the costuming and I especially loved the several changes allowed for Albin. Michael Schweikardt’s ingenious scenic design works miracles on Goodspeed’s small stage and it’s all beautifully lit by John Lasiter. The drag chorus of leggy “Cagelles” is stunning (there is one women in the group of men) no doubt helped by Mark Adam Rampmeyer’s hair, wig and makeup design. I thought I’d seen enough “La Cages” for a lifetime, but I would gladly make room for this one and any like it.
“La Cage Aux Folles” has been extended at the Goodspeed Opera House through September 10 in East Haddam, Connecticut. For further information and ticket reservations call 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.