The Ridgelea Reports on Theatre

Stupendous “Cage aux Folles” at Goodspeed

The new production of “La Cage aux Folles,” directed by Rob Ruggiero at Goodspeed, is an over-the-top success. Run to get tickets. It has already been extended ‘due to popular demand,’ through September 10.

“La Cage aux Folles,” with music by Jerry Herman and book by Harvey Fierstein, is part of the history of the struggle for gay rights in the USA. It was produced in 1983, based on a French play by Jean Poiret from 1973, about a free-wheeling night club in San Tropez where drag queens sang and danced and the owners’ son fell in love with a beautiful girl named Anne. The story line, of course repeated in the musical, caused his gay ‘parents’ to ask what did we do wrong? But Jean-Michel, played here by the very charismatic Conor Ryan, insists that his life must include Anne (Kristen Martin). That is all well and good, but it turns out that Anne’s father is the arch-conservative Deputy Edouard Dindon (John Zimmerman), who is in the middle of a political campaign, and who has promised to eradicate debauchery like entertainment by gays and drag queens if he is elected. Anne’s parents are coming to meet Jean-Michel’s parents. Whoops!

“La Cage” is not about gay marriage. Georges (James Lloyd Reynolds) and Albin (Jamison Stern) are not married, but they have been a couple since before Jean-Michel was born 24 years ago. Georges is the boy’s birth father. He had a tryst with a good-looking dancer in the Folies Bergere, sometime in his youth, and Jean-Michel is the result. But his mother, Sybil, has not been around to help care for her son, leaving that up to Georges and Albin. Albin is stereotypically “gay.” Fussy and frilly, loving to dress in full drag, and by the way the star of the regular show at “La Cage aux Folles,” where he performs as the fabulous chanteuse, Zaza, night after night. Around home he did the cooking, the cleaning, the caring for Jean-Michel as a child and as a youth. But at this moment in time, Jean-Michel wants to have ‘regular parents’ to present to the Dindons. He wants Albin to hide just for one night, and has asked Sybil to come back to be his ‘mother’ who meets the new in-laws. If you think this is a set-up for disaster, you’re right. But it is also a great set-up for a statement of gay pride. Georges tells Albin that Jean-Michel wants him to disappear, just as Zaza is preparing for the finale, where she (he) sings with the seven Cagelles. Fiercely wounded by the rejection, Albin sends the others to the wings and sings the very powerful hymn to Pride, “I am what I am.” “Life’s not worth a damn, ‘til you can say, ‘World, I am what I am.’” Then he packs a bag, and departs!

Jean-Michel cleans up the apartment, replacing frou-frou gay decor with a crucifix and some religious paintings. Meanwhile Georges searches for Albin, who has left in despair, and finds him near the beach (part of the very handsome sets by Michael Schweikardt). He tells him how much he loves him and that he has a plan. Albin will not disappear. He will be there with Georges and Sybil to meet Anne’s parents, as Uncle Al. This will require some tutoring in how to walk, move, and talk like a rugged man. The sequence is the weakest link in this production, but it gets the point across, as Albin struggles to strut, and to sit, and to speak with awkward masculine movements. He has adjusted to being Uncle Al, when a telegram from Sybil explains that she will not be there. Not sharing the contents, Albin goes off while suddenly the bell rings and the Dindons have arrived. Georges welcomes them, with Jean-Michel. They are expecting Sybil, but instead, there is Albin, in a beautiful tailored yellow dress and wig (great costumes by Michael McDonald -- hair and wigs by Mark Adam Rampmeyer) introducing himself as ‘Maman.’ When the maid (a lovable and talented Cedric Leiba, Jr.) turns up with a burned roast that was to have been dinner, Maman arranges a trip to Chez Jaqueline instead. Madame Dindon (Stacey Scotte) is delighted. She’s wanted to go there for years. Jacqueline herself (Sue Mathys) welcomes the group and from there the rest of the story is a hilarious romp with a happy ending. I won’t spoil it with other details, but promise you a good time while you enjoy it yourselves.

The production is nearly certain to be honored when awards are handed out. So many fine singers and dancers and performers will make it hard to stop: the Cagelles, with great choreography (Ralph Perkins, every actor mentioned above, musical director Michael O’Flaherty, and more.

Goodspeed, a historic Connecticut fixture restored and revived in 1963, is an important part of the state’s cultural scene. It’s nearly impeccable standards are easily reflected in “La Cage aux Folles.” For tickets and information call 860-873-8668, or go to www.goodspeed.org.

Tom Nissley, for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre   July 19, 2015

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