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Family Values Are Front and Center in 'La Cage Aux Folles'


La Cage Aux Folles
Through August 5, 2012
Tuesday-Friday, 7:30 p.m.;
Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m.;
Sunday, 1 and 6:30 p.m.
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa
Reservations: 714.556.2787
:: scfta.org

La Cage Aux Folles has a few years under its belt, and most of us have a fond memory of the endearing story, originally brought to the stage in 1984 by Broadway’s Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein. It is a story of an unconventional family and how it deals with conflict and compromise. This remounting features the tan and toothy George Hamilton and brilliant Broadway star Christopher Seiber and is a rewarding, romantic and relevant piece of musical theater.  

During its first run, I was just beginning my life in college, and it was the '80s, an interesting time socially and politically. The AIDS virus was diagnosed, which unfortunately added a stigma to the gay movement, and many artists were perishing from this devastating disease. Herman and Fierstein, both openly gay men, decided not to make La Cage a politically militant piece, but rather stay true to the romance and charming story of love and family. Herman explained in his memoir, Showtune, “I wanted to write a show about two sweet men that the audience would love and take into their hearts. That’s the real secret of getting your point across - not by hitting people over the head with some pedantic lesson, but by making them fall in love with the characters.”

Many of you have seen the French film, the play or the American film The Birdcage and may already be familiar with this story about two male partners and co-parents, Georges and Albin, whose 20-something son, Jean-Michel, becomes engaged to Anne, the daughter of a right wing, closed-minded homophobe and his submissive wife. Selfishly, Jean-Michel invites his potential in-laws home to meet his parents and through a series of misfortunate events, mayhem ensues for both families. Weaving throughout this tale is the core of the story about love, family, loyalty, and being true to oneself, a message that is timeless and still apropos.

Flash-forward to 2012, La Cage Aux Folles has earned a long list of awards, including the first musical to win Tonys for Best Musical and Best Revival Musical in 2004 and 2010. With a creative team filled with many Tony award-winning heavy hitters - Terry Johnson (director), Lynne Page (choreographer), Tim Shortall (set designer), Matthew Wright (costume designer), Nick Richings (lighting designer), Jonathan Deans (sound designer), Todd Ellison (musical supervisor), and of course, the libretto of Fierstein and music/lyrics of Herman - this Cage also adds the talented actors and amazing dancers to the mix to bring us this wonderful cocktail of musical comedy.

The show’s star ingredients come from Hollywood and the great White Way and are a generation apart. Hamilton, now 72, has six decades of film and television under his belt and a dashing and affable persona engrained into pop culture. He is not a singer, (his singing style reminds me of Rex Harrison) and not much of a stage actor, but his Georges is charming and sweet and complements Christopher Seiber’s Albin.

Hamilton would not have it any other way, as he explained in a recent interview in Boston: “I like to be funny, but Albin is the star of the show. I could go over-the-top at times, but it’s my job not to do that. So sometimes, I’m kind of the cardboard cutout that people often presume I might be.” And with a co-star and onstage wife as talented as Seiber, support is all that is necessary.

Many of you may have been lucky to have seen Tony-nominated Seiber on Broadway as Galahad in Spamalot or as the delishiously evil Lord Farquaad in Shrek The Musical and are aware of the talent he brings from Broadway. He is absolutely fantastic in this character-endearing, neurotic and loveable incarnation - and that boy can sing! His comedic timing and physicality is spot-on and it is a pleasure to watch him in this role.

As Zaza, Seiber’s rendition of Herman’s “I Am What I Am” brought tears to many by sentiment, and goosebumps to some, from his powerful tenor voice. For years this song has been an anthem of individuality and tolerance for the gay movement; very fitting and relevant. In this show it is Seiber’s world and everyone else is happy to live in it.

Other standout performances include Jeigh Madjus as the butler/maid, Jacob, whose antics and downright silliness add to the household; the selfish only child Jean-Michel is competently portrayed by Michael Lowney; his fiancé is played by Allison Blair McDowell and her right wing uptight parents are brought to life by Bernard Burak Sheredy and Cathy Newman. Newman and Sheredy also portray shop owners M. and Mme. Renaud. Restaurateur and fame monster Jacqueline is cleverly played by Gay Marshall and the ensemble is rounded off by Dale Hensley, Suellen Estey, Katie Donohue, Wilson Bridges, Danny Vaccaro, and Todd Thurston.

And we must hear it for the boys! The ensemble of men dressed in drag is simply amazing; athletic, limber, over-the-top dancers who will wow you with acrobatics and attitude. They are known as Les Cagelles and are made up of Assistant Dance Captain Matt Anctil as Angelique, Logan Keslar as Bitelle, Donald C. Shorter, Jr. as Chantal, Mark Roland as Hanna, Terry Lavell as Mercedes, and Trevor Downey as Phaedra. Choreographed with fabulous flare, these guys deliver astonishing performances in heels and a lot of glamour. Kudos to Page and Dance Captain Christophe Caballero. I can imagine there are quite a few ice packs in the wings for these talented dancers, as some of their moves simply look painful!

The orchestra pit is covered to set a cabaret in the first few rows of the hall, with musicians on an upper level stage on both sides of the set, as if they were the house band at the nightclub of La Cage. If you are lucky enough to sit at a table, you will get a great view and some interaction with the cast.

Try to arrive early to catch the opening act - a statuesque drag queen named Lili Whiteass, played by Todd Lattimore. She gets the crowd going and really sets the tone of this fun and endearing piece of theater. Orange County Republicans might get a bit offended, but as this show reminds us, we are all family here, so it would be best to open your mind and let the message and fun of La Cage Aux Folles entertain you. You’ll go home amused and grateful with no regrets.

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