Review: ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts

Riverside Center for the Performing Arts presents La Cage Aux Folles, with Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman and Book by Harvey Fierstein. Based on Jean Poiret’s farcical play by the same name, La Cage is a multiple Tony Award winner with a successful history and is perhaps best known for inspiring the wildly popular 1996 comedy The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Patti D’Beck directs this flashy, decadent production, with Music Direction by Garrett Jones.

The cast of La Cage aux Folles, playing through March 3 at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts. Photo courtesy of Patrick A'Hearn/Riverside Center for the Performing Arts.
The cast of ‘La Cage aux Folles,’ playing through March 3 at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts. Photo courtesy of Patrick A’Hearn/Riverside Center for the Performing Arts.

Georges and Albin (Christopher Sanders and Gabe Belyeu) are a longtime couple who are fixtures in their Saint-Tropez community, where they co-own a beloved drag nightclub. Bawdy, gaudy, and unapologetically bold, their nightclub headlines Albin as the infamous Zsa Zsa, whose sparkly personality is outdone only by her ravishing gowns. Costume designer Kyna Chilcot was given a tall order with this production, and she delivered – with sequins to spare! Despite the insecurities that come with aging, which Albin sings about in the number “A Little More Mascara,” the couple live a happy and free life, one that was fought for and well-deserved.

The company number “La Cage aux Folles” showcases the effervescent and exciting world that they created together, and their mutual affection is highlighted in “With You on My Arm.” However, when Georges’s son Jean-Michel (John Matthew Flemming) brings his fiancée’s conservative, right-wing family over for an introduction, he requests that they hide their lifestyle… and asks that the particularly flamboyant Albin not show up at all, choosing instead to invite his long-absent mother. Not only does this test the loving foundation of their family, it launches them into a humorous chain of events that make up an unforgettable evening.

Georges and Albin begrudgingly accept Jean-Michel’s request, but not before Albin sings “I Am What I Am,” a powerful, defiant number that holds the true heart of the production. With the compromise that Albin attends the dinner as an “uncle,” Georges sets out to re-train Albin’s feminine mannerisms in the number “Masculinity.” Transforming a diva drag queen into a macho man proves to be no easy feat, and while the scene and song are humorous, you can’t help but ache for Albin. When Jean-Michel’s mother proves to be a no-show, Albin takes on the role of his life, and teaches everyone a thing or two about acceptance and integrity in the process.

The ensemble works well together, and all display impressive vocal range, though Christopher Sanders out-sings them all in the number “Song on the Sand.” Scenic designer Ron Keller uses lavish drapery and details to create a dramatic world that is over-the-top in every way, and the actors use every inch of it in their lively song and dance numbers. The music at Riverside (musical direction by Garrett Jones) is provided by a live orchestra, though if you didn’t see them yourself, they could fool you as a recording!

The most physical performance of the night belongs to Anthony Cosby, who became an audience favorite as Jacob, the energetic and overeager butler. Robert Beard and Carol Hagy do a fine job as Edouard and Marie Dindon, a narrow-minded and judgmental pair who see themselves as morally superior. Stephanie Wood is lovely as Anne, their sweet daughter and Jean-Michel’s fiancée, who mercifully seemed to escape her parents’ frigid worldview.

Riverside Center for the Performing Arts’ La Cage Aux Folles is a luxurious treat; one that is much needed and welcome in our current political and social climate. If you need a break from the news and/or your stressful day-to-day, this production is a good choice.

Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

La Cage Aux Folles plays through March 3, 2019, at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts– 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA. For tickets, call (540) 370-4300 or purchase them online.

Sound Design, George Ligon; Lighting Design, Michael Jarett