The feathers are flying out in Issaquah. Amid a Queen's ransom of sequins, affectation and flash, "La Cage aux Folles" is a theatrical romp with the heart of a minister's daughter. This beautifully mounted and well-performed production succeeds with dazzling stagecraft, very solid leading roles, and enough pure entertainment to win over even the most reluctant audience. This musical is very cunning in the way it uses its unlikely elements to create the most likeable of circumstances, and everyone involved here fully understands the methods and motives at work. The show has been rather neglected since its first appearance in the early 1980's, and it's a pleasure to see it so handsomely revived. Confident direction by Steve Tomkins and excellent Music Direction by Bruce Monroe combine to give us solid drama, and a beautifully sung score.
Albin (Richard Gray), the grand and wonderful diva, and her devoted "husband" George (Hugh Hastings) must still find a way to avoid embarrassing their nervous son Jean Michel (Joshua M. Bott) when he brings home the extremely conservative parents of his fiancé Anne (Amanda Paulson). Their world is the world of the nightclub La Cage aux Folles, where everything is glittering and gay, and every night is an opening night. Albin's every gesture is the prelude to a production number, and the show-biz savvy of Jerry Herman takes off with a terrific score, and real affection for the sheer grandiosity of it all.
Director and Choreographer Steve Tomkins has captured all the flair and fabulous excess of a transvestite showroom, but he's kept an equally firm grip on the conventional morality at the center of the story. For all the flamboyance, the book by Harvey Fierstein is all about integrity, fidelity and simple decency. Ironically, the external trappings which originally gave the show a certain outrageousness now appear a bit quaint, while the core values seem a bit radical. What has not aged well, it seems to me, is the whole milieu of cloistered drag queens and the rather forced, sadly clandestine extremity of their artifice. Also, at a time when practically every publicly known gay person is raising a family, a fair amount of the dramatic tension has been lost from the play's central conflict. What has not changed, of course, is the necessity of being true to oneself, of confronting social intolerance with courage, and of allowing love to overcome all difficulties.
In this show, the embodiment of that sort of transcendent love is the relationship between Albin and George. I really admire the way in which Richard Gray balances the uninhibited flair of Albin with the character's inherent dignity. The gestures never feel false or contrived, while everything remains patently artificial, and for all his superficiality, we are kept aware of the real depth and emotional substance of the man. Hugh Hastings does an equally impressive thing with George, never allowing his ability to more easily "pass" for straight to become a value judgement, or an advantage over Albin. As a result, we easily accept why this relationship has sustained over decades, and why the two of them need each other for balance. Further, their relationship with their son is convincing and endearing. Joshua M. Bott makes Jean Michel a decent young man, in spite of the fact that the script leaves him meanly insensitive for too long. The underwritten role of the fiancé Anne is too insubstantial as played by Amanda Paulson, and I think the stuffed-shirt minister of values played by Anthony Curry is effective, but pretty stock.
The company of showgirls in the reviews at La Cage aux Folles are uniformly incomparable (I'm not about to get my eyes scratched out here). Seriously, there's good variety, good definition, and real expertise to go with the razzmatazz. At times I thought Steve Tomkins choreography could have been more varied and interesting, or perhaps the numbers might have been a bit shorter, but for the most part whenever the stage is filled with sequins and elan, it's every bit the fabulous entertainment. Certainly the fine set design by Carey Wong, to say nothing of the spectacular costumes by Karen Ledger keeps everything elegant and amazing. Peter Bracilano created the excellent lighting.
The Village Theatre is a professional company with a beautiful facility just east of Seattle. It serves not only the affluent, rural-suburban residents of those rolling green mountains, but many who make the drive from Seattle based on this theatre's reputation for high quality musical production. "La Cage aux Folles" is pure entertainment, well devised, solidly mounted, affectionately performed and beautifully designed. This is the first show I've seen at the Village, and it's an impressive introduction.
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