Review: Arizona Broadway Theatre Presents LA CAGE AUX FOLLES

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LA CAGE AUX FOLLES owns a well-deserved place in theatre history. The product of a momentous collaboration between Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein, the 1983 musical based on French playwright Jean Poire's earlier work by the same name, was groundbreaking in its open and unabashed celebration of a gay relationship. It was more than warmly received, garnering nine Tony Award nominations and winning six ~ and taking home even more awards for its 2004 and 2010 Broadway revivals.

In its current run at Arizona Broadway Theatre, one might ask, notwithstanding the relevance of the show's overarching theme, whether it has passed its prime.

For those unfamiliar with the play or its second film adaptation (The Birdcage with Nathan Lane and Robin Williams), here's a recap.

Georges (Jamie Parnell) and his beloved partner of twenty years Albin (Michael Ursua) are the principals of a popular drag club. Albin performs on the stage of La Cage as the sensational Zaza, accompanied by Les Cagelles. Nothing interferes with their guise as two regular guys until Georges's son Jean-Michel (Zane Hadish) visits and announces his engagement to the daughter of an ultra-conservative anti-gay politician. He alarms his father and the man who has been like a mother to him further when he reports that he has invited fiancé Anne (Alexandra Carter) and her parents, the officious bigot Edouard Dindon (Mark Woodard) and his submissive wife Marie (Carolyn McPhee), to meet the prospective in-laws.

Complicating matters of family, Jean-Michel's conditions require painful sacrifices ~ that his real mother be invited to the occasion, that all the fancy accoutrements of the apartment be removed, and, the coup de coeur, that Albin absent himself from the encounter.

The story has a fair share of charm, wit, pathos, and flesh. But, for a show famous for its flash and flamboyance, this production is pretty toned down ~ save for a statue of David with a boastful appendage and an over-the-top performance by Seth Tucker as Albin's "maid."

While the first act is a bit of a drag (no pun intended), the second fortunately kicks into higher gear with all of the predictable twists and turns of a scheme gone awry and more animated and emotion-laden performances. It's here that Fierstein's message of empowerment and tolerance gets delivered with full force in what becomes a lively and idealized resolution of opposing values.

Jamie Parnell is a class act as La Cage's host with the most, a spirited master of ceremonies, whose voice has an emotional depth that is most revealed in his heart-warming rendering of Song on the Sand. As Albin, Michael Ursua is more (surprisingly) understated, although he does manifest a tenderness and vulnerability that makes his character undeniably sympathetic and endearing. If there is another shining moment of vocal performance that grabs one's heart, it is Ursua's full throated rendition of the song that has become an anthem of the gay community, I Am What I Am. Both actors convey the mutual devotion that makes their relationship convincing.

A word more about Seth Tucker's performance as Jacob. This performer, whose versatility and depth of talent has been making a formidable impression on Phoenix stages, owns the laughs and the corner on flamboyance in this show. He reeks of glam and panache and sparkle as he sweeps across the stage in full glory, clad in crop tees and cutoff shorts. Bravo!

Another pleasant surprise among the performances of the supporting cast is Carolyn McPhee's glorious outburst of liberation from submission. What a voice!

ABT's production of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, directed by Clayton Phillips, has been staged to coincide with the company's I AM What I Am Project, an anti-bullying initiative designed "to broaden the focus of acceptance and inclusion amongst all, especially teen-youth who confront the demands and pressures inflicted by today's modern, fast-paced social atmosphere regardless of one's sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religious, or socio-economic background." Kudos to Kiel Klaphake, ABT's CEO, and his marketing team for this powerful act of conscience.

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES runs through February 28th at ABT's location in Peoria after which it takes the stage at the Herberger Theatre Center in Phoenix from March 6th through March 22nd.

Photo credit to Scott Samplin

Logo credit to Arizona Broadway Theatre

Arizona Broadway Theatre ~ ~ 623-776-8400 ~ 7701 W. Paradise Lane, Peoria, AZ


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