Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Theater Review: LA Cage Aux Folles Ivoryton Playhouse

James Van Treuren and David Edwards. Photo: Anne Hudson
Ivoryton’s Folles is Worth a Trip Back to the Cage
By Lauren Yarger
If you are wondering whether it’s worth seeing the oft-produced musical La Cage Aux Folles again, the answer is yes if you are headed over  to Ivoryton Playhouse.

The Jerry Herman musical, with a book by Harvey Fierstein, Jean Poiret and Jerry Herman, won six Tony Awards when it premiered on Broadway in 1983. Since then it seems like there always is a production on the season calendar of a theater near you. You can even catch the movie version, “The Bird Cage,” starring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams.  

The production at Ivoryton, helmed by Lawrence Thelen, with choreography by Todd L. Underwood, is reason to see it again. Thelen has assembled a talented cast, some of whom have played the roles before elsewhere, to present a polished and moving show, well done on the small Playhouse stage.

James Van Treuren is Georges, the manager of Les Cage Aux Folles, a St. Tropez drag club where Les Cagelles (Dyllan Valier, Cameron Benda, Xavier Reyes, John Paul Le Porte, Carlos Chang, Jay w. Garrick, Lincoln Ward, Patrick Heffernan) strut their stuff (costumes by Njaye Olds and wigs by Elizabeth Cipollina).

Headlining is drag queen ZaZa, Georges’ partner, Albin (David Edwards). The couple has shared a life together for years, living in an apartment above the nightclub (sets are designed for easy change with subtle details by Cully Long) where they are attended by butler/maid Jacob (Phil Young) who longs to star in the show.

Suddenly, Georges’ son John Michel (Zach Trimmer), the result of his father’s one-night stand, announces that he is getting married.  What should be a happy announcement is full of angst, however.  His prospective father-in-law is none other than Edouard Dindon (Frank Calamaro from Chester, CT), head of the "Tradition, Family and Morality Party,” who is running for office on promises of eliminating all the drag clubs. A “real” mother is what Jean Michel wants to present, so he asks Georges to invite his biological mother over to meet his prospective inlaws and to keep Albin out of sight.

Mayhem ensues, especially when Albin decides to show up to meet John Michel’s fiancée, Anne (Allyson Webb), her formidable father and his uptight wife, Marie (Samantha Talmadge from Groton).

Highlighting this production, are the solid performances given by the principals. Broadway vet Van Treuren played Georges in Downtown Cabaret’s production of La Cage and Edwards, also a Broadway performer, has played Albin in regional theater. The men are friends off-stage, according to press materials and that comraderie is evident on stage.

Meanwhile, Trimmer performs the role of Jean Miche for the third time (the others were for North Shore Music Theatre and Theatre By the Sea). His beautiful voice makes “Look Over There” and “With Anne on My Arm” real treats.

Young returns to the Playhouse (he was in All Shook Up) and leaves the audience in stitches with his over-the-top, zany interpretation of Jacob. Also wowing is Talmadge, as the prissy politician’s wife in her priggish pointy spectacles. Her excellent singing voice probably comes as no surprise to students at Connecticut College where she is an adjunct instructor of voice. Costume designer Olds gets kudos, not only for small details like those eyeglasses, but for the sheer number of costumes needed --  many with sequins, feathers, bangles and beads.

And if that’s not enough praise for the show, there still is another notable performance to mention: MarTina Vidmar as  Jacqueline, a restaurant owner and old friend of Georges and Albin. She brings to mind Bernadette Peters, in looks, stage presence and energy and magnetizes our attention to a minor role.

Eric C. Bloomquist, Cori Stolbun and Conor M. Hamill complete the capable ensemble.

The polished production, and well-presented favorite songs like “The Best of Times” and “I Am What I Am” under the adept musical direction of Michael Morris, conducting an eight-person band upstage, makes this an enjoyable trip back into the Cage, though sound (designed by Jo Nazro) can be uneven at times. The show clocks in at about two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission.

La Cage Aux Folles plays through Aug. 31 at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton. Performances: Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30, Friday and Saturday at 8. There are 2 extra matinees for this show on Saturday Aug. 16  and 23  at 2 pm. Tickets are $42 for adults, $37 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children. (860) 767-7318;  www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

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