Story: For more than two decades Albin, in the guise of glamorous performer Zaza, has entertained patrons at La Cage aux Folles, the drag nightclub owned and run by his husband Georges in St. Tropez, France. They enjoy the tranquility of the French Riviera days as well as the excitement and allure of the ribald and risque show performed evenings at the nightclub.
When their son Jean-Michel returns home one day he brings surprising news to Georges: He’s getting married. Georges isn’t totally thrilled with the idea, even if he can’t keep track of his own son’s age, which is 24 and not 20. He’s even less enamored when Jean-Michel says that his fiancee Anne is the daughter of right-wing politician Edouard Dindon, Deputy General of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party.
That isn’t all, though. Seems that Jean-Michel has invited Anne’s family to meet his father Georges and his “mother,” Sybil. While Sybil is Jean-Michel’s actual birth mother, she hasn’t been around pretty much since his delivery and has never shown much interest in her son.
Albin really has been Jean-Michel’s “mother” for all those years, devoted to his son. Jean-Michel asks Georges to inform Albin that not only should Sybil be at the gathering, but that Albin is to dress and act as Jean-Michel’s heterosexual “Uncle Al” in the presence of Anne, Monsieur Dindon and Madame Dindon. Furthermore, the family’s butler Jacob, who prefers to be called the maid, is ordered to dress as a traditional butler for the event.
Albin is understandably hurt by Jean-Michel’s insensitive requests but agrees to comply. But, since the family lives above the nightclub in the red-light district, can Jean-Michel, Georges, Albin and the still-absent Sybil really convince the crusading Dindon that they share his political beliefs?
Highlights: New Line Theatre offers its take on the venerable, Tony Award-winning musical by Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman, delivering a crowd-pleasing rendition led by Zachary Allen Farmer in a triumphant performance as the charming and resilient Albin/Zaza.
Other Info: Somewhat surprisingly, this is "bad boy" New Line’s first production of La Cage aux Folles since the company debuted in 1991. La Cage, which is based on a 1973 French play of the same title by Jean Poiret, features a melodious score and smart lyrics by Jerry Herman of Hello, Dolly! fame and a book by Harvey Fierstein, who also has penned Hairspray, Kinky Boots and Torch Song Trilogy among others.
The show opened originally on Broadway in 1983 and earned nine Tony Award nominations, winning six including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. That production ran for four years and more than 1,750 performances.
A revival in 2004 won the Tony Award for Best Revival and a second revival in 2010 won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical, making La Cage aux Folles the only musical in Broadway history to win Best Musical and two subsequent Tony Awards for Best Revival. Not bad for a show which opened in the advent of the AIDS epidemic.
Co-directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor take advantage of Rob Lippert’s open scenic design to incorporate both the main stage of the nightclub as well as the living quarters of Georges and Albin. Lippert’s shrewd lighting design enables the audience to observe music director Nicolas Valdez and the New Line band performing unobtrusively at the back of stage left behind one of the three ovals in the design.
That band is composed of conductor/pianist Valdez, Kelly Austermann on reeds, Ron Foster on trumpet, trombonist Tom Hanson, percussionist Clancy Newell and Jake Stergos on bass. Their effort supports while never overwhelming the cast’s singing, accentuating Herman’s lush melodies.
Michele Sauer and Sara Rae Womack provide the camp choreography performed to the hilt by the sextet of drag performers known as Les Cagelles, namely Jake Blonstein, Dominic Dowdy-Windsor, Evan Fornachon, Tim Kaniecki, Clayton Humburg and Ian McCreary. They’re all “scandalously” attired by costume designer Sarah Porter, who has additional fun with Jacob’s and Zaza’s wardrobes. Ryan Day and Erin Goodenough contribute as well as sound designer and prop master, respectively.
Farmer delivers a superb performance, displaying a fine voice as Albin in the show’s signature tune, I Am What I Am, as well as bringing Zaza to celebrity-status life as a drag queen par excellence.
There’s fine vocal work, too, by Lindsey Jones as Jacqueline, friend of George and Albin and owner of the chic restaurant Chez Jacqueline, teaming with Farmer on the tuneful The Best of Times as well as the upbeat title song.
The hard-working cast also includes Robert Doyle as Georges, Kevin Corpuz as Jean-Michel, Kent Coffel as the repressive Eduoard Dindon, Mara Bollini as the stifled Madame Dindon, Zora Vredeveld as the amiable Anne, Joel Hackbarth as long-suffering stage manager Francis and Tielere Cheatem as audience favorite Jacob, a huge hit as flamboyant butler/maid Jacob.
La Cage aux Folles can be both naughty and nice. New Line’s presentation, under Miller’s and Mike Dowdy-Windsor’s studied direction, succeeds at both.
Musical: La Cage aux Folles
Company: New Line Theatre
Venue: Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive
Dates: March 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Jill Ritter Lindberg