La Cage aux Folles, with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly! and Mame), and book by multiple Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy and Kinky Boots), opened on Broadway in 1983 and won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Broadway revivals in both 2004 and 2010 captured Tonys for Best Revival of a Musical. Does this classic still pack an emotional wallop? The answer to that question is a resounding,”YES!” McLean Community Players’ entertaining production, lovingly directed by Hans Bachmann, opened last night to an appreciative audience and to this very elated reviewer.
La Cage aux Folles focuses on a drag show nightclub owned by Georges and headlined by Zaza, his longtime life partner Albin. Together, they raise a son, who was a byproduct of Georges’ one-night stand with Sybil, a fellow cast member from a previous show. The resultant son, Jean-Michel, now 28 years-old, is engaged to the daughter of a right-wing politician who is determined to crack down on gay nightlife. Jean-Michel asks his father to pretend to have a “normal” family and invite his birth-mother Sybil, even though she has not seen him since he was born. A scheme is hatched to fool his future in-laws about his current family background, and win Anne’s commitment for marriage.
Right away you are in awe of the stunning set design that John Downing and Bill Glikbarg have created. As the red curtain opens in Act I, the stage is smothered in silver ribbons from the ceiling to the floor. A sign with golden lettering hangs stage left of center with the words La Cage aux Folles. Lighting Designer Bob Zeigler’s multiple colors play off the glittering ribbons backdrop with rainbow effects, as the the ten Cagelles began their opening number “We Are What We Are,” filled with great tap dancing, courtesy of Choreographer Duane Monahan. Within these opening minutes, you also gain an appreciation for the eye-popping designs by Richard Battistelli, who has created costumes to match each Cagelle’s personality – complete with matching colored gloves.
I also love Downing and Glikbarg’s design for Jacqueline’s restaurant where they utilized a gorgeous backdrop with marble columns and a gold-trimmed tapestry where the audience-participating “The Best of Times’ was performed. with great zest by Furry and Lisa Anne Bailey (Jacqueline). When action and discussion were occurring on the stage in front of the audience and simultaneously behind the curtain, a black curtain dropped covering half the the stage. This effective technique allowed for quick scene changes.
Christopher Furry (Albin) and Harv Lester (Georges) display an abundant amount of chemistry which is evident in “Song on the Sand” when Georges recounts the first time they fell in love. I enjoyed Lester’s passing remarks he made during the performance, like when he asked the trumpet player, “Does your mother know what your lips are doing tonight?” The audience roared.
Christopher Furry’s double portrayal of Zaza – the performer – and Albin – the kind and understanding ‘matriarch’ – is instilled with so much fire, humor, and heart. It’s a winning combination and a realistic portrait of the personal lives of actors who simultaneously deal with two worlds – life on and off the stage. And what Furry accomplishes with his rendition of “I Am What I Am,”is summed up in one word – unbelievable!
Tim Adams (Jean-Michel) is superb as the emotionally conflicted groom-to-be, especially while singing and dancing “Anne On My Arms” with the bubbly and loving Annie Ermlick, and during the heartbreaking reprise of “Look Over There.” Carl Nubile (Dindon) and Barbara Porter (Madame Dindon) give marvelous comedic performance as Anne’s fanatic parents, who are attempting to make things “right.’
And hats off to ‘Zaza’s Saint-Tropez support group’ – the talented and energetic and hard-working and beautiful Cagelles: Kevin Belanger (Monique), Terry Barr (Chantal), Danielle Eure (Mercedes), Mark Hidalgo (Phaedra), Kristen Magee (Odette), Danny McKay (Hannah), Sam Nystom (Nicole), Catherine Oh (Bitelle), Cam Sammartano (Anoinette) and Ryan Timonthy (Clo Clo).
One of the most challenging musical numbers of the show is the song “Cocktail Counterpoint” where both sets of parents meet each other for the first time. It’s a tough scene to sing and to act and all the cast members do a stupendous job.
There were times during this performance where too much time was used to change the sets. Musical Director John Edward Niles has some fine musicians in his pit but there were times when they needed to be more consistent in their playing. I am confident that these issues will be rectified quickly.
Newly-elected Attorney General Mark Herring recently ruled on January 23, 2014 that he would not defend the gay marriage ban in the State of Virginia that had been inherited from the prior administration. What great timing for McLean Community Players to focus on this important issue and to mount a wonderful production of La Cage aux Folles. And hopefully audience members will leave their performance, as Georges says, “with more than a program and a ticket stub.”
La Cage aux Folles is timeless and très fantastique!
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
La Cage aux Follies plays through February 16, 2014 at McLean Community Players at The Alden Theatre – 1234 Ingleside Avenue, in McLean, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (888) 811-4111, or purchase them online.