AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music & lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Marc Jacobs
Presented by Broadway By the Bay
San Mateo Performing Arts Center
600 N. Delaware St., San Mateo / (650) 579-5565

Reviewed by Judy Richter

"La Cage Aux Folles" is a musical comedy that seems to be inspired by today's headlines. It focuses on two gay men in a committed, loving relationship. Together for 20 years, they have to defend their own family values against an internal threat as well as an external one -- a crusading, moralistic politician who despises homosexuals and all that they stand for. But it wasn't created in 2010. Composer-lyricist Jerry Herman and book writer Harvey Fierstein launched it onto Broadway in 1983. Based on Jean Poiret's play of the same title, it went on to win six Tony Awards then as well as Tonys for best revival in 2005 and again this year.

In producing the show now, Broadway By the Bay underlines its timeliness in the midst of California's controversy over gay marriage. Among other issues, both the pro and con forces emphasize family values. "La Cage Aux Folles" has a strong family consisting of Georges (Curt Denham), owner of a French seaside nightclub called La Cage Aux Folles; his partner, Albin (Ray Mendonca), the star of its drag acts; and Georges' 24-year-old son, Jean-Michel (Justin Basl). Complications arise when Jean-Michel announces that he's engaged to Anne (Michelle Cabinian), and wants her parents to meet his. However, her father, Edouard Dindon (Steve Schwartz), despises gays and is crusading to close down places like Georges' club. Therefore, Jean-Michel wants his long-absent mother and Georges to get together for one night and to keep Albin out of the picture. By the end, both Jean-Michel and Anne's father learn a valuable lesson about family values.

All of this is framed by Herman's memorable music, performed well by the BBB cast and orchestra, overseen by musical director Attilio Tribuzi. The show's signature songs include "We Are What We Are," performed by Les Cagelles, the club's chorus of men in drag and women. It's reprised as "I Am What I Am" as performed by Albin. The other main song is "The Best of Times," ultimately sung by the entire cast.

Despite the show's pedigree and the generally high quality of this production, it lacks some needed spark. It may be that the cast hadn't quite settled in on opening night. Perhaps the Cagelles men still had to get used to dancing in high heels even though Robyn Tribuzi's choreography doesn't seem as inventive as I've seen in other productions. Denham's level-headedness as Georges could use more variety, but he's often a nice balance to Albin's flamboyance. While Mendonca seems to know when to back off from Albin's excesses, George P. Scott as the family's butler, Jacob, takes the screaming queen act too far. Director Marc Jacobs needs to rein him in.

As is usual with BBB, the sets, costumes and sound equipment are rented, and they're all terrific. Lighting is by Michael Ramsaur and the sound by Bill Carrico. Jeanna Hurd designed the wigs and makeup.

Even though this production isn't quite up to BBB standards (I should qualify that assessment by saying I often see it a day or two after the opening), it's still highly entertaining, fun and thought-provoking.

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