BWW Reviews: SNS offers the timely, yet timeless, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
In its latest offering, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, the Short North Stage presents a musical that is a fine cocktail of flamboyance and subtlety and leaves its audience with a powerful, timely message without overtly stating it.
The two-act musical, put together by director Michael Licata and musical director Lloyd Butler, runs from Nov. 1-25 at the Garden Theatre's main stage (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus).
LA CAGE tells the story of Georges (Neal Mayer) and Albin (Thom Warren), a couple who run the Saint-Tropez night club in France. Each night, Georges serves as master of ceremonies and Albin transforms into the star attraction Zaza of the club's drag show.
The two's world is turned upside when Georges' son, Jean-Michel (Kyle Miller), a byproduct of his one-night stand, announces he is getting married to Anne Dindon (Holly Atwood), the daughter of a conservative right-wing leader who has vowed to shut down the area's drag shows. Jean-Michel tells Georges that Anne doesn't share her father's ideals, but his future in-laws insist on meeting his "parents." By this, he means Georges and his biological mother, who the son hasn't seen in years, and not Albin, who has raised him all his life. Jean-Michel also leaves the task of telling the emotionally fragile, overdramatic Albin he is not welcome at the dinner to Georges.
This is where SNS' version of LA CAGE as better than the 1996 film version, THE BIRDCAGE, which starred the late Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Lane played Albert Goldman (which was based on Albin) strictly for laughs. Warren's Albin is not some comic strip goof but a real person with real emotions. When Warren delivers a searing rendition of "I Am What I Am" shortly after being told he wasn't allowed to attend the dinner, the pain in Albin's eyes seems real, not a punch line to some gag.
The serious moments, however, don't drain the show of its humor. When Mayer, the masculine center of the couple, with help from M. and Mme. Renaud (John Stefano and Linda Kinnison Roth), tries to teach Albin the fine points of the art of being manly in "Masculinity" is one of the show's high points. (Ironically Roth's character is the only one who can truly capture a manly strut.)
Stefano and Roth are double cast as Edouard and Marie Dindon, the conservative couple that may become Jean-Michel's in-laws. Stefano provides masterful strokes to Edouard's expressions as he realizes Albin and Georges own Saint-Tropez.
Another audience favorite is Jacob (Marcus Davis, who looks like Tracy Morgan in drag). Jacob alternates between being Albin and Georges' butler and maid while constantly scheming up ways to get on stage at the Saint-Tropez.
Rounding out the talented cast are Amanda Cawthorne Short (Jacqueline), Patrick Schaefer (Francis), Ryan Kopycinski (Tabarro), Lauren Rabe (Collette), Etienne (Gabe Woerner) and the Les Cagelles dancers, consisting of Luke Bernier, Mateus Barbosa da Silva, Michael Carrier, Jeff Fouch, Mitchell Kallner, Nick Lingnofski, and Kyle Swearingen.
While the outrageous costumes and dance routines, including one that seems to be a spot-on parody of Cirque du Soleil, may be what stand out, it is the subtle soft touches that separate LA CAGE from similar offerings. For example, Albin and Georges have their PDAs at a restaurant, but quickly withdraw from each other whenever they feel someone is watching. It is understated, and yet heartbreaking.
LA CAGE offers a statement about acceptance, not only as individuals but as a society, without addressing the current political or social climates. That is what we need more of during this time.
Short North Stage presents LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at the Garden Theatre (1187 North High Street in downtown Columbus). Shows begin at 8 p.m. Nov. 1-3, 8-10, 15-17 and 23-24 with 3 p.m. matinees on Nov. 3-4, 10-11, 17-18 and 24-25. For more information, call 614-725-4042.