Signature Theatre’s production of La Cage aux Folles under the sure hands of Director/Choreographer Matthew Gardiner is a fabulously fun-rendering. There is simply no way to leave the production without a big bright happy smile.
And here is my DCMTA colleagues Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell’s review of La Cage aux Folles.
But, then came events in Orlando; 50 dead in the worst mass shooting on American soil. My column on the three decade old multiple Tony Award-winning La Cage with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Harvey Fierstein about acceptance, tolerance, and diversity became more difficult to write about.
Then I focused my mind on the final act of rebellion in this gleaming Matthew Gardiner directed show. An act that is against intolerance that takes on new meaning in what is really a mainstream, chaste musical.
Where in other productions an audience may witness a peck on the cheek or a limp smooch, same-sex married couple Bobby Smith (Albin) and Brent Barrett (Georges) give what I now can only call an act of defiance to haters with a full, warm kiss on the lips. A kiss of love like the old married couple they are – a kiss not dissimilar to so many long-term together heterosexual couples – a tender kiss -a kiss that now takes on a new meaning.
Events in Orlando had me rethink some of my initial thoughts for this column aimed at those who have seen La Cage over the years. First, writing too many words about good fun, happy silliness, a sugar high and sass seems rather wrong on this moment in time. Then again, seeing the show can take on new meaning for an audience.
So, let me heartily acknowledge that Matthew Gardiner continues his mastery with directing big splashy warhorse musicals. Gardiner is simply aces at presenting fresh approaches to shows we think we know. He finds ways to taunt, tease and tantalize with his casting and then character interpretations. He gives fresh texture and representations that come from the written words and lyrics on the page, but with new eyes and the distance of time from the original, perhaps easy, but shop-worn versions.
So what has Gardiner found that so provoke me into fan-boy wonder?
It is the shock value of the absolute petulance; the irritable impatience of Jean-Michel the son of parents Georges and Albin. As portrayed by Paul Scanlan, his Jean-Michel provides depth and weight with his devastating, childish demand that his parents “act” straight so he can impress his new crush and her family. He is petulant demanding that Albin, his mother, disappear from view and take her furnishings from the home, thus impressing his latest in a long-line of girlfriends and her ultra conservative parents, the ultra-conservative, homophobic elder Monsieur Dindon. And this is from the son who was abandoned by his biological mother.
What an ingrate!
“I told them my father was a Cultural Attache; what’ll they think when they find out he lives with a drag queen? These words from Jean-Michel are spit out and his face become almost red. He is angry and could care less that he was breaking his parents’ hearts. He wanted what he wanted, period.
Added insult comes when Jean-Michel demands that his long-time absent biological mother show up to “act” as his mother and wife to Georges.
So, for me, Jean-Michel is no innocent. He is a total prick, or at best acted out as a spoiled brat? Whatever. In this production of La Cage, the lengths that Georges and Albin were willing to go to please their son added enormous profound depth to what could have been portrayed as innocent and flip to get to the songs and dance. With Jean-Michel portrayed as a lout, La Cage’s iconic songs such as ‘I Am What I Am or Look Over There or The Best of Times have more affecting weight and heart. This production is more than just pizzazz.
Ok, one last note. God, does his girlfriend/fiancée have a clue about him and his sense of privilege and desire to always be spoiled? Jeez, what a husband he will make for her. (I know this is only musical theater).
So, dear readers let me ask. Have I gone off the rails with what I saw at Signature? Did I “miss-see” the Jean Michel character on the MAX Stage? Let me know what you think. I do want to know.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.