2006 Season
“La Cage aux Folles”

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Drag Queens and All, “La Cage aux Folles” Comes to Patchogue

by Charles Lane

In “La Cage aux Folles,” the bright and funny musical comedy about a tap-dancing transvestite family trying to woo their rigid soon-to-be in-laws, Bellport’s Gateway Playhouse stays true to the long-running Broadway show that won six Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Book. 

Last week’s opening night performance at the Patchogue Theater for the Performing Arts dazzled the audience with the glitz and spectacle of well choreographed dance numbers that seemed too confined on Patchogue’s stage and wanted to spill off in a colorful trill of high-kicking skirts and whipping boas.

Based on the 1973 play of the same name, “La Cage aux Folles” tells the amusing story of a gay couple—Georges and Albin, the manager and star attraction of a drag nightclub—and the adventures that ensue when Georges' son from a past dalliance brings home his fiancée’s ultra-conservative parents to meet them.  At the pleading of the love-struck son, the family attempts to hide their “immoral” ways by putting on the ultimate drag performance that is thoroughly entertaining and often funny.

Even though it is light and comedic, for those wishing to delve the story itself pivots on the notion of identity: how one’s self identity—especially the identity of those in drag—can both hide and accentuate a person’s true self.  The betrothed son more or less accepts Georges’ and Albin’s homosexual identity, but then rejects Albin for amplifying it as a drag queen.  Hurt, Albin tries to perform her nightclub routine but crumbles after the lyrics “we are who we are and what we are is an illusion.”  But to please the rest of his family and to impress the in-laws, Albin decides to abandon his transvestite identity and instead “play it straight.”  In the end he fails but in the process uses his former drag identity to win over the son’s fiancée and foil her stodgy parents who in turn must alter their identity to escape tangles in the plot.

David Edwards’ performance as Albin was nothing less than marvelous and earned him a standing ovation.  Edwards (who understudied for roles in Broadway’s “By Jeeves”) throttled the full range of his character’s personality and genders; he used Albin’s effeminate coyness and sentimentality to douse the audience with allure only to drop a well-timed sack of guttural manhood that won the crowd’s unanimous laughter.  Edwards maxed-out Albin’s full value when he learned of the son’s disdain for him and then again when he tried his best to portray himself as a John Wayne type of man.

Richard White’s take on Georges warmed in the second act and peaked at the story’s climax.  Until then Georges seemed stiff and unsure how flamboyant or manly he was supposed to be.  When White (who performed in Broadway’s “The Most Happy Fella” and voiced “Gaston” in Walt Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”) finally did find his character’s verve he made it shine and he stole the entire stage as he brought the plot toward its solution.  For White, the effect of the ending evened-out the plot’s Three’s Company-esque beginning that relegated Georges to a befuddled Mr. Roper.

White’s tense presentation perhaps embodied the same opening night jitters that affected half of La Cage’s Les Cagelles, the crossdressing chorus whose first number lacked the enthusiasm of what was to come later and had among it a number of faces that resembled unemotional plastic dolls.  Save for a nagging mic problem, other opening night glitches were nearly absent.

Two other noteworthy performances came from Hanna-Liina Vosa and James Duane Polk.  Playing the fool’s role as the maid/butler, Polk offered the cast the first spark of excitement which they gratefully took up and carried onward.  His good timing and very emotive diction sustained throughout.  Though Vosa’s role as the fiancée was slight, she was thoroughly engaging and genuinely warmed the stage with a sprightly projection. 

Director and choreographer DJ Salisbury scored good marks for coordinating a brilliantly florid blend of dance, costume design, and lighting, all set on a pleasing and efficient stage.

Tickets for “La Cage aux Folles” range from $36 to $42 and can be purchased at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport by calling 1-888-4-TIX-NOW or on the web at www.gatewayplayhouse.com.


Dynamic and Delicious Performances

By Lee Davis

“La Cage Aux Folles” is that rare creation, a show with a second act that has the potential of throwing its first act into shadow—a reversal of the usual second act troubles that besiege even the best of musicals. In the original Broadway production, the balance was maintained by director Arthur Laurents and choreographer Scott Salmon by keeping the numerous act one production numbers fairly flying, with artful timing and creative originality.

The concept and choreography of director/choreographer DJ Salisbury, in the current lavishly staged revival of “La Cage Aux Folles” at Gateway’s Patchogue Theater location, has the unfortunate effect of calling attention to the paucity of substance in act one.

It’s perfectly understandable to, in the spirit of accuracy, stage the nightclub production numbers in not very coordinated tackiness. True enough to the reality of a transvestite club in St. Tropez, they are. But tacky authenticity is tricky territory, and with repetition, it can pale. The problem isn’t because the excellent dancers in this cast can’t keep in step with each other. When the palate cleansing, roof raising “The Best of Times” comes along in the second act’s 11 o’clock number position, it all comes together in perfect coordination with roaring results.

Another first act problem in Patchogue, at least on opening night, was the addition of, again, authentic shtick—Albin doing a Chita Rivera turn with the audience straight out of her latest “Nine” performance;, and some weird and not very entertaining second banana night club acts. On opening night, they stretched the length of the first act to an hour and 40 minutes, and the running time of the entire show to nearly three hours—a situation that, by the time this review appears, will no doubt be solved by some judicious editing.

Even these missteps fade, however, in the dynamic and delicious performances in both acts by a remarkable ensemble cast, from the mad and screeching antics of James Duane Polk as Jacob, the butler who insists on playing a maid, through the sweet and understated and gracefully danced performance of Hanna-Liina Vosa as Anne, the obliging fiancée of young Jean-Michel, the son of Georges, the owner of La Cage Aux Folles nightclub and the masculine half of the leading romantic couple.

As lined out by Mark Fisher, Jean-Michel is an obnoxious young man with a gorgeous voice.

And then there’s Deb G. Girdler, who has her uplifting time in the key light as the boisterous and obliging Jacqueline in the second act romp through her nightclub.

And, most of all, there’s the central couple, the romantic twosome around which the rapid fire plot (adapted closely from the original movie) by Harvey Fierstein, whirls. As Georges, whose son Jean-Michel’s affiance to Anne—whose father, Eduoard Dindon (played with operatic effectiveness by Daren Kelly) is a crusading politician with a virulent anti-gay agenda—Richard White reveals an astounding singing voice.

His delivery of “Song on the Sand,” the show’s enduring ballad, is a work of vocal art, and his rendition of “Look Over There” the revelatory and touching song of recognition in Act Two, becomes a crystalline moment. Mr. White’s acting, however, particularly in his frequent scenes of frustration and/or anger, tends to launch itself a great distance over the top, so that he emerges as a man with a great voice but no middle range, and a volume control that rarely seems to work.

And yet, Mr. White smoothly and tellingly merges with the superb and poignant performance by David Edwards, as Albin, the unabashed and hugely sensitive transvestite performer and substitute mother of Jean Michel. As a meeting of the families looms, Albin is shoved, against his will, and with thoughtless urgency, back into the closet from which he has proudly emerged. “I Am What I Am” is his song of truth, and Mr. Edwards delivers this anthem with brilliant and heartfelt humanity, as he does his first act set piece, “A Little More Mascara.”

But more, Mr. Edwards is a consummate and sensitive and many sided actor, and his portrayal of Albin is a moving and memorable one.

Jerry Herman’s music and lyrics are delivered with gusto by this strong cast under the driving musical direction of Scot Woolley, conducting an orchestra perched skyward on stage in yet another rich looking and smoothly effective set designed by Kelly Tighe. Doug Harry’s lighting and the “costume coordination” from a Florida costume house by Marianne Dominy are right and riotous.

In sum, this is a solid restatement of “La Cage Aux Folles,” performed to its gold-hearted hilt by a stage full of remarkable performers. It plays through September 9, every night except Monday, and with a number of matinees, at the Patchogue Theater on Main Street. The box office number is 286-1133.


Review: La Cage aux Folles at Gateway

by Roy Bradbook

After a long lifetime of watching musicals, my top picks would be Carousel, West Side Story, Les Miz and La Cage aux Folles. What makes a great musical? For me, the essentials are songs that are melodious, lyrics and a book that tell a story that makes you experience the whole gamut of human emotion from laughter to tears and all points in between. Jerry Herman’s La Cage aux Folles was controversial when first staged in New York in 1983, a time when stories of gay relationships, however monogamous and long lasting, were thought to be likely an anathema to many of the potential theater going audience. However, its sensitive depiction of human relationships within and outside a family ensured that it survived and to have long award winning runs in both New York and London.

The Gateway Playhouse production of La Cage that has just opened at the Patchogue Theater can really be reviewed in just a few words. It is simply brilliant. I say this after having seen both the original Broadway and London productions several times. The story is set around a gay couple in the south of France who have been together for twenty years and run a nightclub. Georges is the business and front of the house man while his partner, Albin, is the female impersonator par excellence. Georges has an adult son from a long ago liaison with a showgirl, when he was still deciding on his sexual preferences, and now the son, Jeanne-Michel, turns up with the good news that he is engaged and his in-laws are coming to visit. Good news often is followed by bad and the father of the fiancée, Anne, is a notorious political homophobe, unlikely to be pleased with the lifestyle of Albin and Georges. The ensuing confusion and misunderstandings bring all of the elements of a true French farce to play before matters come to a happy ending.

This is a show for which it is absolutely vital to get the casting right. This production has two excellent and very versatile actors and Broadway veterans, Richard White and David Edwards, starring respectively in the roles of Georges and Albin. Richard White plays the masculine part of the duo with great aplomb and tenderness and displays a strong melodious singing voice, especially in that very poignant number, “Look Over There.” David Edwards spends the majority of the evening dressed or dressing as his alter ego, ZsaZsa, the female nightclub chanteuse and carries this very difficult role magnificently. From his first big number, when he sings about putting on, “A Little More Mascara” while making himself up and donning his gown and high heels, to the iconic number “I Am What I Am,” which he delivers with a passion and a feeling I have never seen or heard equaled. This is a consummate display of acting. Between them, there is a chemistry, a rapport, that makes for an electrifying night. If you allow yourself to be drawn into their world, you will laugh and cry with them – I did!

No nightclub could exist without its dance troupe and La Cage has “Les Cagelles.” These are a wonderfully athletic, high stepping beautiful troupe of “ladies.” You have to guess who is who and what is what, all part of the illusion before the wigs and the gowns reveal the truth. At the end of a side-splittingly funny rendition of a can-can, at the finale, where all the dancers perform flying full splits, you could almost hear the men in the audience wince in sympathy!

In supporting roles, James Duane Polk was hilariously camp as Albin and Georges’ servant, Jacob. Mark Fisher and Hanna-Liina Vosa made a charming and tuneful couple and Daren Kelly and April Woodhall convincingly bigoted in-laws.

Director DJ Salisbury, Artistic Director Robin Joy Allan, Scenic Designer Kelly Tighe, Producer Paul Allan and all of the Gateway staff should be very proud of this production. The sets are functional and well designed and the costumes are appropriately glitzy. This show confirms the depth of musical talent we have and it is just a pity that today we have no one writing musicals of this quality.

If you truly love the musical theater do not miss this production – it is world class standard and deserves to be a total sell out with lines round the block!

La Cage aux Folles is at the Patchogue Theater until September 9th. The box office number is 631 286 1133.


Kitsch that can't be caged

August 29, 2006

It's hard to escape Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein's "La Cage aux Folles." The swollen musical adaptation of Jean Poiret's svelte 1973 farce (and 1978 film) ran from 1983 to 1987 on Broadway, where it was revived a scant 17 years later. Now the Gateway Playhouse has mounted it, this time at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts. This would be cause for complaint if Gateway had low production values, but the law of diminishing returns has not been enforced on this "La Cage."

As the curtain rises, dapper MC Georges (Richard White of the animated "Beauty and the Beast") introduces "the notorious Cagelles," a flamboyantly dressed crew of dancers at his club, La Cage aux Folles. Each Cagelle sports a wig, one of Marianne Dominy's wonderfully immoderate costumes, and plenty of makeup, the total effect of which obscures the gender of each dancer. (Some are ladies, some gents; all is revealed when they remove their wigs at the end of the number).

As the dancers shimmy offstage, and Kelly Tighe's successfully excessive set spins on its axes, the scene shifts to a house adjacent to the club, where Georges lives. He owns the club, and runs it with his partner Albin (David Edwards), who tops the bill as chanteuse Zaza, a local celebrity and queen among men.

All seems well until Georges' son Jean-Michel (whom he has raised with Albin) returns home to announce his engagement to Anne (Hanna-Liina Vosa), the lovely daughter of Edouard Dindon (a terrific Daren Kelly), an Ashcroftian politician who has had his sense of humor shot off in the culture wars. Thus, explains Jean-Michel (Mark Fisher), Georges must meet Dindon without his lover at his side, in order to impress the future in-laws.

Fierstein's libretto spends the entire first act squeezing every ounce of pathos out of this injustice, and then hedging its bets by trading in stereotypes, culminating in Herman's anthem "I Am What I Am." In 1983, this was a bold statement (and a radio hit), but 23 years later, the relentless schmaltz robs the show of a gravity it once possessed simply by virtue of its subject matter (but never actually earned). The wrongheadedness of the first half is never more evident than in Act II, when the show re-enters the farcical territory of the original play and consequently becomes much more entertaining.

Ultimately, the musical numbers carry the Gateway "La Cage" across the finish line. Herman's evocative score wears its old-Broadway influence on its sleeve, and White's smooth, full voice does mellow justice to shamelessly Cole Porterish numbers such as "Song on the Sand." Further, director/choreographer DJ Salisbury's acrobatic dance sequences occasionally surpass kitsch and simply astonish. Gateway has put together a first-rate production.

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Book by Harvey Fierstein, directed by DJ Salisbury. Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, 71 E. Main St., Patchogue. Call 888-484-9669, or go to www.gatewayplayhouse .com. Seen Friday.

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Copyright © 2006 Gateway Playhouse