Review: LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at Seacoast Repertory Theatre

Drag Queens Take The Stage in Portsmouth

By: Mar. 28, 2022
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Review: LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at Seacoast Repertory Theatre

La Cage Aux Folles currently playing at the Seacoast Repertory Theater in Portsmouth is a reminder of how far we come in the world of gay acceptance.

The show was a radical breakthrough in the original play that debuted in 1973 and in the Robin Williams and Nathan Lane film rendition (The Bird Cage) that hit the big screen in 1978. It was in 1983 that the show became a Broadway hit.

Fast forward to a stage production almost 40 years later in the seacoast of New Hampshire.

The show remains more relevant than ever. It's still a gender-bending masquerade that asks the viewer to accept a flaunting lifestyle for the first time--drag queen dancers in a cross-cultural nightclub on the Riviera. For all its glitzy action, and comically lighthearted moments, it still manages to push the hot button issues of the day: gay marriage, gay parenting, sexual freedom, and the makeup of what constitutes a family.

Directors Ben Hart, Brandon James, Jason Faria and Alyssa Dumas spearhead this vibrant production in what has become a powerful social stage comedy.

Georges (Jamie Bradley) is the gay proprietor of a mecca on the French Riveria that features a bevy of spectacularly costumed drag queens in stage performances. His partner Albin/Zaza (Jonathan Chisholm II) is a featured star at the club. Their son, Jean-Michel (William Bernier), a product of Georges one night foray with a woman, arrives at their doorstep announcing that he has found the love of his life, Anne (Delaney Lynch) and that her parents, Edouard Dindon (Brett W. Mallard) and Marie Dindon (Andrea Lyons) will be visiting the drag queen estate.

The story centers around the attempt to conceal their lifestyle from Anne's parents especially her unforgiving homophobic and bigoted father. Things turn even worse when Georges and Jean-Michel suggest that Albin/Zaza dispense of his cross-dressing antics and opt to become Uncle Albert, a more acceptable man figure for the upcoming visit.

When Jean-Michel's real-life mother fails to show for the visit as planned, Albin/Zaza, becomes a full force protective mother in hopes of saving the ruse of the evening.

The show blends an amusing but lengthy and sometimes tedious 90-minute first act with a show stopping end of act finale. The second act is far more entertaining playing like a master class of witty dialogue and farcical build up to a crazy but thought-provoking ending.

Bradley, as the "plain homosexual" Georges, offers a suave and more masculine member of the gay couple playing off Chisholm's flamboyant drag queen. Bradley is a convincing partner who makes the character his own, certainly not a carbon copy of the well-known Robin Williams portrayal on the screen. He is at his best with poignant numbers, "With You on My Arm," "Song in the Sand," and "Look Over There." He is a wonderful foil to Chisholm's over the top moments.

Chisholm captures attention with his amazing vocals in his first number, "A Little More Mascara," a tender reflection on his stage career, to the show stopping "I Am What I Am," a tune that went from a snappy number in a Broadway musical to become an anthem for the gay community.

Chisholm is a combination of energetic substance and flaming pizzazz. They are a very convincing drag queen who especially shines when they portray Jean-Michel's doting mother. Watching Chisholm's comically painful attempts to walk like a man, more like Uncle Al, is all that needs to be said about gay conversion therapies. Their energy and "esprit de corps" is uplifting in the number, "The Best of Times."

Wonderful supporting roles are played by Bernier and Lynch as the star-crossed lovers, both looking every so "francaise." Mallard is an appropriately unlikeable hard nose while Lyons cuts loose as a frenzied wife.

The butler, or better said house maid, Jacob is wonderfully portrayed by Zachary Ahmad-Kahloon, a cross dresser with terrible fashion sense and a flair for the dramatic. Jennifer Bubriski plays a very engaging chanteuse.

The drag queen divas- Les Cagelles- are extraordinary. There's something uniquely dazzling about seeing a stage full of men dressed as women with thundering male voices, performing complex dance routines, all with split second timing and mind-blowing costume changes. And what costumes there are by designers Ben Hart and Brandon James!

Choreography by Jason Faria and Alyssa Dumas is equally amazing with rousing tap numbers, burlesque style routines and homages to the French Can-Can.

No theater packs a small performing space better than Seacoast Rep. They use every inch of the compact theater with cleverly choreographed scene changes that don't miss a beat. The set and sound were "tres magnifique." The orchestra was powerful but not overbearing and in perfect balance with onstage vocals.

A true reminder of the breakthrough moments of the play are when Anne's father condemns the ruse he's been drawn into calling the couple homosexuals and perverts in a very hatred filled voice. It is an extremely uncomfortable moment for a more accepting audience of today.

How accepting? In 1983, you might not have seen an audience of mostly mature gray haired matinee goers give a standing ovation for the number, "I Am What I Am." It was a nice moment to behold.

The show fuses together two potent freedoms-the right to love and the right to privacy. If a nightclub on the south of France can prove that these freedoms truly exist, then maybe there is hope in a world where these are "the best of times" that Albin/Zaza so fondly sings about.


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