BWW Reviews: LA CAGE AUX FOLLES Anything But a Drag
Having future in-laws meet can often be a pretty awkward experience, especially when the two sets of parents reside on opposite sides of the political fence. Few meetings could be more awkward than the ones in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, a two-act musical being presented by Imagine Productions at Wall Street Nightclub in downtown Columbus.
Jean-Michel (played by Anthony Tipton) has to introduce his parents Georges (Jeb Bigelow) and Albin (Ryan Scarlata), who run a drag cabaret in Saint-Tropez, to the parents of his fiancée Anne Dindon (Linsey Riley). Here in lies the problem: Not only are Anne's father Edouard (Ryan Stem) and mother Marie (Elena Reinert) ultra conservative but her father is a politician hell bent on cleaning up the town by closing down all the cabaret clubs.
With a premise like that, a theater company needs just the right mix of players to carry off LA CAGE. Imagine met the challenge head on and delivered a show that was equal parts comedic and musically appealing and, at the same times, touching and believable.
Making it all work were the performances of Bigelow and Scarlata. Bigelow shines as emcee of the nightclub and husband of its biggest star Zaza, Albin's alter ego. Georges must placate the demands of his divaish partner, mollify the needs of his son (the result of his one-night stand with a showgirl) and appease nearly everyone else in the show. By trying to pacify everyone else, Georges realizes he has hurt Albin, the one person who means the most to him.
Scarlata handles the demands of making Albin, an over-the-top personality, a real flesh and blood character. In THE BIRDCAGE, the 1996 non-musical movie version of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, Nathan Lane turned in a great comic performance of trying to turn the effeminate Albin into the heterosexual "Uncle Al."
However the stage performance of LA CAGE requires a more delicate performance. Scarlata does a great job of interacting with the audience, making them feel like they are a part of the show. But he immediately shift gears without grinding them as he delivers the show's emotional peak -- performing as Zaza shortly after learning of Georges' scheme to get rid of him the night of the dinner party with the Dindons. Scarlata's heart-wrenching delivery of "I Am What I Am" is what keeps LA CAGE from being just another over-the-top comedy.
LA CAGE director Audrey Rush gives the audience variety of eccentric characters to choose from. Terrence Brown is hilarious as Jacob, who was hired as a butler but serves more as a maid and spends most of the show scheming into ways of getting on stage. Andrea Klinker gets a chance to showcase her singing and comedic chops as Jacqueline, the owner of the owner of the classy restaurant, "Chez Jaqueline." Each of the "Les Cagelles" drag queens, Tilton "Zhane" Wiley (Chantal), Jesse Weaver (Hanna), Steve Stumphauzer (Phaedra), Kyle Rutkowski (Bitelle) and Jack Miller (Mercedes), bring their own unique personality to the show.
Stem is strong as Monsieur Dindon, a homophobe who has to perform as part of the Les Cagelles to save his political career. Other comedic highlights of the show are Reinert as Madame Renaud who tries to teach Albin how to walk like a man and Garrett Zollars as the long suffering stage manager of Les Cage Aux Folles. Also contributing to the show are Zoe Lathan (Colette), Tom Miller (Etienne) and Greg Zinkiewicz (Tabarro).
The seven piece orchestra, directed by P. Tim Valentine, serves as an off-stage character in the show. Accordion music often fills in the air whenever Georges tries to soothe Albin's bruised ego, causing Scarlata to quip "What do you do? Pay that guy to follow you around?"
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES was written in the 1973 and first performed as a Broadway musical in 1983. Its message about acceptance of who you are and others for whom they are is just as poignant and relevant in 2014 as it was when it first came out.
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES will be performed 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21-23 and 26-28 and March 1-2 at the Wall Street Nightclub (144 N. Wall Street) in downtown Columbus. For reservations, call 614-398-1110 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.