Monday, July 20, 2015

La Cage aux Folles -- Goodspeed


James Lloyd Reynolds and Cedric Leiba, Jr. Photo: © Diane Sobolewski

The Best of Times Really is Now, Making the Plot of this Musical a Bit Dated
By Lauren Yarger

“Look over there
Look over there
Somebody cares that much

“I found a combination
That works like a charm
I'm simply a man
Who walks on the stars
Whenever it's Anne on my arm

“The best of times is now
As for tomorrow, well, who knows?
Who knows? Who knows?”

These parts of La Cage aux Folles’ music and lyrics have been running through my head nonstop since I saw the show at Goodspeed last week. It’s a testament to Jerry Herman’s skills as a music and lyrics writer and evidence of why the somewhat out-of-date show gets so many regular productions in theaters across the country every year. (Our last visit was a very good production at Ivoryton Playhouse last season.)

With a book by Harvey Fierstein, based on Jean Poiret’s 1973 play of the same name, the original 1983 Broadway production won the Tonys for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. La Cage aux Folles is the only musical which has won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical twice. Here at Goodspeed, demand has extended the production with six additional performances through Sept. 10.

And it is the score that is the main attraction. The silly plot about hiding a gay relationship from people who might be offended by it hardly seems relevant following the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on same-sex marriage.

Georges (a somewhat awkward James Lloyd Reynolds) runs La Cage aux Folles (literally translated: Cage of Mad Women), a drag queen nightclub in St. Tropez with his partner, Albin (Jamison Stern) as Zaza, as the star attraction. George’s son, John Michel (dreamy baritone Conor Ryan), the result of a one-night stand, announces that Anne (Kristen Martin) is the love of his life and that he is getting married.  There is one problem, however. Anne is the daughter of Edouard Dindon (Mark Zimmerman), an ultra-conservative politician who heads the "Tradition, Family and Morality Party" and who has pledged to close down immoral clubs like La Cage.

John Michel doesn’t exactly approve of Albin’s flamboyant and transvestite lifestyle, so he asks Georges to “uninvite” him when Anne, her father and mother (Stacey Scotte) come to visit. He wants his birth mother to pose as Georges’ wife – a notion which hurts Albin, who has been a “mother” to John Michel since he was a young boy.

Unpersuaded by Georges’ pleas – the moving song “Look Over There” -- John Michel forges ahead with the deception, redecorating the couple’s apartment over the club (done in cardboard-looking, pink walls by designer Michael Schweikardt) with pictures of Jesus to win Dindon’s approval. John Michel also insists that their house help, Jacob (a very funny Cedric Leiba, Jr), who has hopes of being able to star in the drag-club act himself one day, dress and behave like a butler instead of the high-heel, flamboyant-female attired maid he usually embraces.

When Jon Michel’s birth mother bails at the last minute, Albin steps into a dress and assumes the role of George’s wife for the meeting with the Dindons at a chic restaurant run by Jacqueline (an excellent Sue Mathys who lights up the stage whenever she is on it). As you might guess, the deception is discovered with ensuing chaos.

This production, directed by Rob Ruggiero, drags a bit (no pun intended), especially at the start. The devotion between Georges and Albin isn’t evident. Stern seems the most comfortable in his role and particularly enjoys interacting with audience members as Zaza. He delivers on the Act-One closer “I Am What I Am.”

Also confusing is the final scene when the Dindons need to make an escape in disguise to avoid the press (the staging looks like they already have captured the politician with their cameras). There may be a little too much reliance here, on the assumption that we have seen this show numerous times and know what is going on.

The show kept feeling dated to me. With sweeping changing opinion about gay marriage, this whole plot seems irrelevant. Would anyone embracing this lifestyle feel the need to go out of his way to impress a conservative, anti same-sex-marriage politician these days? Unlikely. Dindon is the French word for turkey, after all. The meaning might have needed to be disguised back in the early 1980s, but not so much now, and I would think John Michel would just tell Dindon to get on board with what is considered politically correct or kiss his political career goodbye. Ah, but then there would be no show.

Choreography by Ralph Perkins ranges from tap to ballet and is well executed. It offers a few welcome surprises (for those of us who HAVE seen this show numerous times) even as he sends groups out in small numbers to accommodate the tiny Goodspeed stage. The costumes by Michael McDonald are colorful, glittery and clever. The rest of the entirely all-male production team:  John Lasiter (lighting design which loses some actors when they come into the house) Jay Hilton (sound design) and Mark Adam Rampmeye (hair and wig design). Michael O’Flaherty (with assistant F. Wade Russo) directs the catchy music with many refrains that keeps playing in your mind long after the final curtain.


Shining here are Mathys with her stage presence and Leiba, who has the audience in stitches when his character throws some attitude.

La Cage entertains through Sept. 10 at Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam. Performances are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Thursday at 7:30 pm. (with select performances at 2 pm), Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm (with select performances at 6:30 pm. Tickets $27-$78.50  860 873-8668; www.goodspeed.org.

The ensemble:
Chris Heitikko, Darius Barnes, Michael Bullard,  Alexander Cruz, Wade Dooley, Barbara McCulloh, Erin M. Kernion,  Alex Ringler, Nick Silverio, Nic Thompson , Brett-Marco Glauser and Emily Grace Tucker.

Events:
  • Lady Katharine Lunch Cruise: Enjoy summer on the Connecticut River on Wednesday, July 29. Add a leisurely cruise and sumptuous buffet aboard the Lady Katharine to your theater ticket. Choose 11:30 am lunch cruise ($42) or a 5 pm dinner cruise ($47) to pair with either the 2 pm or 7:30 pm performance. 
  • Meet the Cast: Take part in a lively discussion with the cast after the Thursday evening performances on July 23, Aug. 6 and 20. Meet the Cast events are free with a ticket to that evening’s performance. 
  • Friday Dinner Theatre Package: Includes dinner at the Gelston House (located next door to the Opera House) and a ticket to the 8 pm performance for $82.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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