BWW Review: LA CAGE AUX FOLLES: The Best of Times at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston
La Cage aux Folles
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman, Book by Harvey Fierstein, Based on the play by Jean Poiret, Musical Arrangements and Orchestrations by Jason Carr, Directed and Choreographed by Susan M. Chebookjian, Music Direction by Dan Rodriguez; Producing Artistic Director, Robert J. Eagle; Scenic Design, David Allen Jeffrey; Original Costume Design, Matthew Wright; Lighting Design, David Wilson; Sound Design, Robby Davis and Robert Luke Pelletier; Assistant Director/Choreographer, Daniel Forest Sullivan; Wardrobe Supervison,, Alison Pugh; Production Stage Manager, Lauren Burke; Production Manager, Lori E. Baruch
CAST (in order of appearance): J.T. Turner, Will Burke, Joseph Cullinane, Andy Edelman, Justin Flores, Christopher Mitchell, Dwayne P. Mitchell, Michael Morley, Paul Watt-Morse, Robert Orzalli, Madelyn Sproat, Benz Atthakarunpan, James Darrah, Jonathan Acorn, Lily Steven, Maria Tramontozzi, Ian Costello, Conor Meehan, Ellen Peterson, Allyn Hunt, Margaret Felice, Rich Allegretto, Maureen Brennan, Nino Ruggeri, Anelise Allen, Kat Murphy O'Connor
Performances through August 18 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA; Box Office 781-891-5600 or www.reaglemusictheatre.org
In the summer of 1983, Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein put on a show that was light years ahead of the zeitgeist, vis-a-vis the awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ people in America, and about twenty years before the legalization of same-sex marriage. Yet, after a successful tryout at the Colonial Theatre in Boston, they boldly went where no Broadway musical had gone before when they opened La Cage aux Folles at the Palace Theatre on August 21, 1983. Under the direction of Arthur Laurents, it went on to receive nine Tony Award nominations, winning six (including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book), and run for four years and 1,761 performances, before closing on November 15, 1987. Subsequent productions in 2004 and 2010 each took home the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical, as well as a handful of other awards.
Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston concludes its 51st Summer Season with La Cage, and I am pleased to report that the show continues to stand the test of time. The three most important components for a successful staging of this musical are the two actors who play the leading men, Georges (J.T. Turner) and Albin (James Darrah), and the dance troupe who comprise Les Cagelles, the drag performers at the Saint-Tropez title nightclub owned by the latter couple, and they collectively win the trifecta. More on Turner and Darrah later, but the eight young men who prance about in pantyhose and heavy makeup keep wowing the audience with their terpsichorean feats, tapping, twirling, tumbling, and even kicking up an energetic cancan. Whatever director/choreographer Susan M. Chebookjian throws at them, they knock it out of the park, and, as they used to say about Ginger Rogers, while wearing high heels. To give them their due, Les Cagelles are played by Will Burke, Joseph Cullinane, Andy Edelman, Justin Flores, Christopher Mitchell, Dwayne P. Mitchell, Michael Morley, and Paul Watt-Morse.
Georges is the manager of La Cage aux Folles and Albin, his romantic partner of 20 years, is the club's star attraction, performing as his alter ego, Zaza. The suave Georges caters to Albin's sensitive whims, but faces a conundrum when his son Jean-Michel (the silky-voiced Jonathan Acorn) announces his engagement to the daughter of an ultra-conservative politician. Anne (lithesome Lily Steven) and her parents, blustery M. and mousy Marie Dindon (Rich Allegretto, Maureen Brennan), are coming to meet the prospective in-laws and Jean-Michel's demands include a makeover of the garish apartment, inviting his absent birth mother, and the uber-flamboyant Albin making himself absent. Against his better judgment, Georges agrees and sets about finding ways to explain the situation to Albin. Complications and hurt feelings ensue, but we get to see Zaza in action and lots of killer costumes in the process.
Turner and Darrah give stellar performances, each finding the essence of his character and bringing it to the fore. Georges is the less flashy of the pair, but Turner shows him to be a soft-hearted, stand-up guy. He makes a vibrant master of ceremonies for the nightclub and delivers his few songs with emotional depth, although he is not the strongest singer. The easy connection between Turner and Darrah makes their union convincing, whether they're fighting with each other, harmonizing, or making up. With just a hint of Nathan Lane in his interpretation, Darrah makes Albin/Zaza his own, capturing the insecurity, the humor, the inner diva, the motherly qualities, and the drama queen all rolled into one. He has a terrific voice and lots of opportunities to put it on display, but is most impressive in his full-throated version of "I Am What I Am," the iconic anthem at the end of act one.
Of all of the supporting players, the most colorful is Benz Atthakarunpan as Jacob, Albin's butler who insists he's a maid. In addition to donning some crazy costumes and wigs, his style of delivery is hysterical and he virtually steals every scene he's in. Robert Orzalli (Francis), the oft-injured stage manager at the club, dryly carries out his responsibilities while lusting after one of the Cagelles; Allyn Hunt (M. Renaud) and Margaret Felice (Mme. Renaud) are solid as the proprietors of the café; and Ellen Peterson (Jacqueline) deserves kudos for her manipulations with a smile and a song. Rounding out the cast as townspeople and club patrons are Madelyn Sproat, Maria Tramontozzi, Ian Costello, Conor Meehan, Nino Ruggeri, Anelise Allen, and Kat Murphy O'Connor.
Music Director/Conductor Dan Rodriguez and eight musicians do justice to the great Jerry Herman score, and Chebookjian's choreography brings it to life. David Allen Jeffrey's scenic design presents simple sets for the club, the apartment, and the town square, all augmented by David Wilson's lighting design. Most of the glamour, glitz, and glitter are provided by the original costumes designed by Matthew Wright. Robby Davis and Robert Luke Pelletier craft successful sound design, ensuring that all dialogue can be heard and the vocalists are not drowned out by the musical accompaniment.
One can easily get caught up in the great music, dancing, and costumes in La Cage aux Folles and just enjoy it as a very entertaining musical comedy. However, it is worth listening closely to the words of Harvey Fierstein's Tony Award-winning book and Herman's lyrics to be reminded that, at its core, this is really a story about love, family, and not being afraid to be who you are. In 2019, as in 1983, if we can live up to that credo, it may turn out to be "The Best of Times."