BWW Reviews: Theater By the Sea Ends 80th Season with Flawed LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
For those outside of theatrical circles, La Cage Aux Folles might be best known as the basis for the hit movie The Birdcage. While that's all well and good, the musical has been a major force in the theater world since it premiered in 1983, when it won a number of Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The show has been revived on Broadway twice and both revivals won a Tony Award for Best Revival. It's the only show to ever win that award twice. On the surface, it seems like the perfect show to end a successful summer at Theater By the Sea in Matunuck.
A big, boisterous musical, La Cage focuses on the lives of a gay couple, Georges and Albin, who reside in Saint-Tropez. They live a charmed life there, where Georges owns a nightclub featuring drag queens as the primary entertainment. Albin, in fact, is the biggest drag queen of them all, the unquestioned star of the show and a local celebrity. All heck breaks loose when their son returns home with the news that not only is he engaged, but he is bringing his fiancé and her ultra-conservative parents over to meet the family.
Theater By the Sea's production is led by Peter Reardon as Georges. Reardon is solid as a rock and is the foundation upon which the show is built. His pitch-perfect performance is at the center of the show and everyone else is better off for it. He handles his musical numbers well, showing off a deep, emotion-tinged voice. At the same time, he's deftly able to handle both the comic timing and the believable acting that the role calls for.
Unfortunately, this production's biggest flaw is in the portrayal of Georges' other half, Albin. Actor Jonathan Hammond is terribly miscast or misdirected or both. Right away, he seems far too young for the role. Worse, though, is his incessant mugging, hamming it up, and chewing every last bit of scenery. To say the performance is over-the-top would be an understatement. It would have been ok if he at least made Albin into a truthful, sympathetic human being. Instead, his Albin is never likeable or endearing in any way. This also impacts his rapport with Reardon, playing his partner in life and love, with whom he has absolutely no chemistry. Their relationship just feels hollow. At the play's final moments, Hammond does show an ability to find the tender, quiet and believable moments with his other actors, but it's too little too late.
Some of the other primary cast members don't help matters much. As the prodigal son, Zach Trimmer leaves much to be desired. He's overly bland and seems to be giving line readings most of the time. As Anne, his fiancé, Jenna Nicole Schoen is adorable but given almost nothing to do, which is too bad. Her mother is played by Leah Jennings, another actress who may have been able to shine if she was given more of an opportunity. The role of Anne's conservative mother is pretty thankless.
Luckily, the evening is saved by the presence of a fantastic group of actors and actresses who make up the large ensemble. The group of dancers who work at Georges' club, collectively known as "Les Cagelles" are an absolute pleasure to watch. Although they are many and I won't list them all here, they each deserve a round of riotous applause for their amazing performances. Truly, the night at Theater By the Sea would have been better as a whole were it just two hours of watching them perform a drag show. Choreographer Michael Lichtefeld deserves a standing ovation for his electric, exciting choreography.
Special mention must also be made of Marcia Zammarelli, who continues her dominance as one of the best, if not THE best, costume designers working in this area. Her costumes never disappoint and this show is no different, from the perfectly conservative suits to the fantastic bird costumes right out of a Mardi Gras acid trip. The other technical elements were also uniformly excellent, except perhaps for a few questionable prop choices. The sets by Bert Scott were lovely, especially a couple of outstanding painted drops, without doubt some of the best you'll likely ever see.
Part of the problem with La Cage, in general, is that it seems to want to be two different shows. On the one hand, it's a smashing, hilarious drag show at Geroges' club. On the other, it's a family drama about two parents and their son and how they all accept and love each other and themselves. There's a much different tone between the two sides of the show and even the music is much different. The songs and dance numbers during the drag show scenes are fabulous. During the more dramatic scenes, the songs are boring and uninspired, not to mention extremely repetitive.