Review: The Stratford Festival's LA CAGE AUX FOLLES Heralds the Arrival of Pride Month

Sean Arbuckle and Steve Ross offer funny and moving performances in this musical comedy that is full of heart.

By: Jun. 01, 2024
Review: The Stratford Festival's LA CAGE AUX FOLLES Heralds the Arrival of Pride Month
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What a fitting choice to have the Stratford Festival production of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES be the one to herald the arrival of Pride Month! Last night, the Thom Allison - Directed production brought heart, humour, and pride to the Avon Theatre stage. Steve Ross and Sean Arbuckle are endearing as longtime lovebirds Georges and Albin with Ross’ rendition of I am What I Am causing instant goosebumps. This show boasts an incredibly talented ensemble of performers and some divinely hilarious moments of comedy. There are occasions where the pacing feels slow and a gimmick goes on a tad too long, but overall, this production is a fun and moving night at the theatre.

The musical LA CAGE AUX FOLLES – inspired by the Jean Poiret play of the same name, debuted on Broadway in 1983 with a Book by Harvey Fierstein and Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman. Set in St. Tropez in 1978, it’s the story of couple Georges and Albin – the proprietor and the star of the La Cage aux Folles nightclub. When their son Jean-Michel (James Daly) shows up announcing he is engaged to the daughter of a conservative politician and asking that his biological father Georges play ‘straight’ and that Albin, who raised him like his own make himself scarce, feelings are hurt and traumas involving hiding one’s true identity are triggered. Out of love for their son, the two men eventually both agree to this rouse and due to unforeseen circumstances, Albin ends up needing to utilize his cross-dressing skills to pretend to be Jean-Michel’s mother. This hilarious plot leads to some great moments of levity as well as beautiful moments of reflection. This show is as much about heart as it is about comedy and this cast does well to balance both.

Arbuckle’s portrayal of Georges’ inner conflict over the arrangement and Ross’ portrayal of deep hurt are incredibly touching. The love the two characters have for each other and their son is the driving force behind every decision and reaction they have. Overall, where Ross shines brightest is in Albin’s comedic moments where he attempts to be more masculine and then flips the script and poses as Jean-Michel’s mother. He also looks exquisite in his alter ego Zaza’s gowns and brings tears to your eyes in the I Am What I Am number at the end of Act I.

James Daly and Heather Kosik are splendid as the young loves Jean-Michel and Anne. It’s a beautiful moment when we witness Jean-Michel truly transform into a man as he eventually realizes what he values and what his fathers have done for him. Daly’s portrayal of this realization is very heartfelt and touching.

Other notable performances come from Chris Vergara as the hilarious Jacob, Georges and Albin’s butler/maid/chosen family and Starr Domingue as Jacqueline, and over-eager club patron and proprietor of a popular local restaurant.

Interspersed throughout the show are performances and backstage moments with Les Cagelles – the drag chorus line at the club. The artistry and athleticism of this group of performers is on full display with inventive choreography by Cameron Carver. At times it seems like perhaps Director Thom Allison struggled to find things for the ensemble members who are not portraying Les Cagelles to do though. Characters will often pass through a scene as a French stereotype or be in the background dealing with their own mysterious personal drama. Typically, I am someone who delights in ensemble characters having their own quiet arcs in the background of scenes, but for whatever reason, it feels slightly clunky, and doesn’t completely work in this instance. That said, it is entirely possible that other theatregoers may take great enjoyment from these little moments.

Brandon Kleiman’s Set Design and David Boechler’s costume design are superb. What works so well with this production is that there is always something shiny for the audience to look at while the performances then bring us deeper into the heart of the show. Despite the initial conflict, this is a show about queer joy, queer love, and queer pride and it is a privilege to have that on full display on stage at the Avon Theatre.

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES continues in Repertory at the Avon Theatre until October 26th.



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