BWW Review: LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at Uptown Players
There's a fabulous party going on at the Kalita Humphreys Theatre hosted by Uptown Players and, as is often the case with this acting troupe, the festivities include drag queens, glitter, and a whole lot of laughter. Although not everyone on the guest list is a solid ten, the hosts have pulled out all the stops to guarantee a great evening. This serves as your invitation to come and join the denizens of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES!
If you have neither heard of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES or the Nathan Lane/Robin Williams movie it inspired, The Birdcage, the musical (often know just as LA CAGE) debuted on Broadway in 1993, based on the 1973 French play of the same title. Two mature male lovers, Georges and Albin, live atop the gay nightclub they manage, where they also raised their heterosexual young-adult son, Jean-Michel. When Jean-Michel attempts to introduce his parents to his fiancée Anne's staunch conservative family, all hell breaks loose.
Uptown Players' production reaches its peak each time the long-legged "cagelles" (as the club performers are known) take the stage. Cale Richards, Trevor Wright, Sammy Swim, Terry G. Snyder, Kyle Fleig and Michael Gomez each shine as brightly individually as they do as a group. Whether they're kicking their glittered-drenched faces, modeling revealing bikinis or throwing their toned bodies into torturous jump-splits, the boys-er, girls-are the belles of this ball. And, thanks to Mikey Sylvester's flashy choreography, their skills are impressively displayed!
As Georges (the slightly more masculine of the gay duo), Bob Hess exudes glamour and grace as he delivers a more endearing approach to the character than many of his famous predecessors (Robert Goulet, Kelsey Grammer, George Hamilton, and for only a few performances before he quit, Jeffrey Tambor). Hess also serves as the Master of Ceremonies for the nightclub performances, and his charm is magnetic.
On this other hand, despite his previously proven talents, Mikey Abrams is unfortunately miscast as Albin, the effeminate lover whose alter ego, Zaza, is the club's headliner. Quite frankly, Mr. Abrams appears a couple decades too young for a role that is often the butt of ageist jokes. Abrams is a skilled character actor, but here lacks the level of sincerity necessary to keep the audience emotionally engaged in the family's fragile dynamic. The campy costumes rented from the show's national tour (which otherwise succeed in enhancing the slick show) further launch Albin/Zaza beyond the realm of drag and into a clownish camp style. When he makes his first transformation from Albin to Zaza, the result is an over-the-top Bette Midler lookalike. Abrams is a master of adlibbing with the audience and succeeds in keeping the audience smiling. Perhaps another stab at the role when he's aged beyond his baby face will find him greater success.
In a show written to highlight men who look like ladies, it's nice to find a few cisgender female standouts in the supporting roles: Sarah Powell showcases a beautiful French accent and stunning vocals as restaurateur Jacqueline; Jenny Tucker creates a great character arc for the otherwise shallow Marie Dindon; and Emmie Kivell turns her often thankless role as fiancée Anne into a game-changing player as her eyes are opened and she bravely puts down her foot, opposing her parents' beliefs.
At the preview performance I attended, several scenes hadn't yet found ideal pacing, but it feels inappropriate to blame this on director Cheryl Denson or the cast: Harvey Fierstein's script is often entertaining but, despite the updates made in 2010, the book feels a tad dated and unbalanced. However, when the show's running on all cylinders, Denson's direction and Mikey Sylvester's choreography elevate the material with pizzazz. With his adaptation of the national touring scenery, Rodney Dobbs has decorated the Kalita to perfectly house the Saint-Tropez act. Amanda West's lighting, Michael Moore's wigs/makeup and Suzi Cranford's work with the touring costumes create a dazzling feast for the eyes that further enhance the storytelling. And, lastly, Kevin Gunter's musical direction brings out the best of the company's vocal skill.
Despite any shortcomings, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES is sure to please Uptown's enthusiastic audiences. But, if the preview performance is any indication, please heed a literal warning about the risk of some oversized balls accidently falling into the first few rows without warning. Unless that's your thing!