LA CAGE AUX FOLLES a “grand and gaudy” show at SF Playhouse
La Cage aux Folles: Musical. Book by Harvey Fierstein. Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman based on the play by Jean Poiret. Directed by Bill English. San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco, 2nd Floor of the Kensington Park Hotel. 415.677.9596 or www.sfplayhouse.org. July 12 –September 16, 2017
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES a “grand and gaudy” show at SF Playhouse. Rating: 1/2
San Francisco Playhouse must have blown their budget for their last show of their amazing 14th season producing the hilarious yet touching musical La Cage Aux Folles as their summer special to attract the many visitors to the Bay Area and as a treat for the locals who gave it a partial standing ovation on opening night.
You are in for a surprise on entering the auditorium that has been fitted out with a runway from the stage apron into the middle of first five rows. Be assured that the runway is used often by major cast members and the chorus.
The source material for the original show is based on the 1973 play of the same name by Jean Poiret. It was multitalented Harvey Fierstein (book) and Jerry Herman (Music & Lyrics) who wrote the musical version that rocked Broadway and London’s West End in the 1980s. It won awards as best revival of a musical on Broadway in 2004 and in London in 2008. International staging began in 1985 and a National Tour based on the 2010 revival began in 2011.
In 2013 Sonoma County’s Cinnabar Theatre mounted a colorful, hilarious, heart-tugging production of La Cage aux Folles which received a deservedly thunderous applause from an appreciative audience on opening night. They made extra effort to emphasize the love story between the main characters Georges and Albin. That was a new version that originated in London in 2008 and traveled to Broadway in 2010 receiving accolades and awards on both sides of the Atlantic. All the songs were given excellent renditions by professional singers and actors with purposely graceless dancing by the “hilarious kickline of Les Cagelles.”
The San Francisco Playhouse made no mention of which version they used but all the marvelous original songs are intact and the “Les Cagelles aux Folles” are equally hilarious and appropriately graceless under the choreographic direction of local favorite Kimberly Richards. The “Les Cagelles aux Folles” are a major part of the humor with some as men in drag and women equally garishly dressed.
The opening number sets the tone for the remainder of the evening as Albin/Zaza the drag queen star parades on the runway with Cagelles backup of the anthem song “We Are What We Are” telling us that this is the “grand and gaudy La Cage aux Folles night club where you can meet your mistress, boyfriend and wife at the same time!” The flamboyance of the grand opening number is balanced by at Zaza’s quiet solo of becoming what she is by adding “A little More Mascara.”
“She” is the talented John Egan who was imported from New York to play the “female” half of the unwed male couple who have raised a son Jean-Michel (Nikta Burshteyn) sired by Georges (Ryan Drummond) after a drunken one night liaison 24 years ago with Sybil a show girl.
Jean-Michel has fallen in love with Anne (Samantha Rose)) the daughter or Edouard (Christopher Reber) and Marie Dindon (Adrienne Herro). M. Dindon is the chairman of a committee to protect T.M.T. (Traditional Family Marriage) and is dedicated to removing every vestige of homosexuality from the Riviera.
Jean-Michel feels that he cannot introduce Albin/Zaza as his mother and asks Georges to send Albino/Zaza away for a couple of days while they change the frou-frou apartment décor to a more staid appearance. And what are they to do with Jacob (Brian Yates Sharber)) the star-struck butler who dresses as a maid? [Side Note: Sharber is miscast as Jacob but is an appropriate understudy for Albin/Zaza.] As the conflict arises the bitter-sweet fun unfolds.
Director English takes full advantage of the revolving stage and scenic designer Jacquelyn Scott’s well planned sets to keep the non-stop action going with smooth set changes between the La Cage stage performances and the multiple quiet scenes needed for the memorable songs of “With (Anne) You on My Arm” and “Song on the Sand.”
While Zaza is performing with the Cageles (“La Cage ax Folles”) George and Jean-Michel have redecorated the apartment that is now as ascetic as a Monk’s quarters and butler/maid Jacob in a white wig and footman’s garb. The stunned Albin silently takes center stage for the haunting “I Am What I Am” that captivates the audience as the curtain closes on act one.
After the obligatory story setting of act one the cast turn in superlative performances for the complicated, intricate storyline of act two. After a reprise of “Song on the Sand” that is nailed by Egan and Drummond there is the show stopping “Masculinity” with Georges and the cast giving Albin instructions on male behavior. With the entrance of the Didons and the transformation of Albin as “mother” to Jean-Michel further shenanigans unfold that have the audience in stitches and even taking part in the show.
Fierstein and Herman keep up there great work and throw in the marvelous songs of “Look Over There” and “The Best of Times” adding a reprise of “Look Over There” before a slam-bang finale. The running time is two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission earning a strong should see rather than a must see due to the excessive glitz that sometimes overshadows the love story and social implications.
CAST: Nikita Burshteyn as Jean-Michel; Samantha Rose as Anne; Brian Conway as Chantal; Morgan Dayley as Angelique/Colette; Ryan Drummond, as Georges; John Treacy Egan as Albin; Robert Faltisco as Francis; Josiah Frampton Swing; John Paul Gonzalez as Hanna/Tobarro; Adrienne Herroas Mme. Renaud/Marie Didon; Alex Hsu as Bitelle; Lee Ann Payne as Mercedes/Jacqueline; Chris Reber as M. Renaud/Edouard Dindon; Brian Yates Sharber as Jacob; Nicholas Yenson as Phaedra/Etienne.
CREATIVE STAFF: Directed by Bill English; music directed by Dave Dobrusky; choreographed by Kimberly Richards; scenic designer Jacquelyn Scott; lighting designer Robert Hand; Sound designer Theodore J. H. Husker; Costume designer Abra Berman; stage manager Alicia Lerner; wig designer Laundra Tyme.
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.
Albin (John Treacy Egan*) performs as Zaza at La Cage aux Folles.