Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following review of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at Elmwood Playhouse
Through June 10th
Disclaimer: When you live and work together as Wayne and I do, you tend to rub off on each other; and the truth is, we’re together most of the day, every day. It’s been lovingly observed by many that we’re often finishing each other’s thoughts and sentences. Frankly, we do think alike – and that’s why we’re so compatible. But there are no alternative facts here – we DON’T read each other’s reviews until each is completed, yet we can understand why some might wonder. Well, we think you’ll see what we mean when you’ve finished reading these two reviews! Feel free to comment!
I have many favorite films and among them is 1996’s The Birdcage, directed by Mike Nichols and written by Elaine May, which starred none other than my FAVORITE comedian of all time, Robin Williams, and the inimitable Nathan Lane. Never having seen a stage production of the iconic musical La Cage aux Folles on which it was based, Williams and Lane have been my gold standard; in addition to the incredible acting chops of the rest of the cast, which included the absolutely brilliant Hank Azaria, Gene Hackman, Dan Futterman, Dianne Wiest, Calista Flockhart, and Christine Baransky. Honestly, who could ask for more? Now I know my husband/co-reviewer disagrees – he’s got his own preference – the original 1978 film, La Cage aux Folles. Nevertheless, all of it can be traced back to the 1973 play of the same name by Jean Poiret, which also was subject to a phenomenal retooling in 1983 into a Tony Award-winning musical by Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman.
But I have a new gold standard because I have now seen the theatrical incarnation – taking to the boards with such incredible zest and enthusiasm is Elmwood Playhouse’s knock-down-drag-out (pun intended!) La Cage aux Folles, astutely directed by Alan Demovsky. Despite a modest theatre, they made excellent use of the stage, whereby he and his company put on a ginormously, uproariously, riotously engaging production which was everything I could have hoped it would be and more. In fact, there is so much going on at any given time, you’ll need an extra pair of eyes to make sure you don’t miss a thing!
When gay couple Georges and Albin get the news that their still wet-behind-the-ears son Jean-Michel is engaged to be married to Anne, who is none other than the daughter of a highly conservative leader of the “Tradition, Family, and Morality Party,” everyone becomes completely unhinged. No one dares tell Anne’s parents, Marie and Edouard Dindon (it’s not a wonder that “dindon” in French means turkey) about Jean-Michel’s home life; that Georges is the master of ceremonies of a drag club in St. Tropez where the headliner is his wife, Albin, who goes by the stage name Zaza. Before anyone can catch their breath about the impending nuptials, Georges and Albin learn that they are soon to have company – who else? The Dindons. Despite putting on countless shows a week at La Cage, a lot of work must be done to pull off this particular show – including toning down the flamboyant domicile, hiding away the even more flamboyant Albin, and reeling in their maid/butler Jacob whose outrageous actions are unpredictable at best.
One of the most difficult things about doing iconic works is making them one’s own – and Elmwood so very successfully did! John Ade as Georges is fabulous as the straight man (no pun intended this time, really!) to Larry D. Gabbard’s 180-degree, sidesplittingly funny, uber-colorful gayness. Gabbard channels Nathan Lane (called “Albert” in the film version), honoring the character without being a copycat. The two work it as the loving, quibbling couple/parents/show people and seamlessly alternate with both hysterical and sentimental moments. Damon Quattrochi as Jean-Michel is funny and stubborn – and like any kid who is embarrassed by his parents, shows what it’s like navigating those often choppy waters (his may be choppier than most). Tom Kiely who is a recent college grad, is an utter gem as Jacob, reminding me in many ways of Hank Azaria’s portrayal of maid/butler Agador Spartacus – he has the comic timing of a seasoned theatre vet already and surely has wonderful things in his professional future. Kaitlyn Kozinski also is delightful as the demure and innocent Anne.
James Lugo as Edouard as well as M. Renaud, the café owner, is excellent as is his stage wife in both instances, Mariann Felice as Marie and Mme. Renaud. In the roles of the Dindons, they are terrifically funny as the uptight politicos – and Mme. makes an enjoyable turnaround as the story develops. Julie Wendholt is excellent as Jacqueline, the restaurant proprietress. Andrew Greenway steals several scenes as both Francis, the persnickety stage manager as well as Tabarro, the fisherman who develops a quite scintillating relationship with one of the La Cage dancers, Hanna, played by A. Miller – she/he is a fabulous dancer but she plays a little rough – and fortunately that’s exactly how Tabarro seems to like it. The rest of the La Cage dancers are incredible talents – and their gender identity will leave you guessing – B. Brink-Rivera as Phaedre, A. Francisco as Bitelle, H. Macklay as Mercedes, and T. Todd as Chantal. Finally, Dolores Hodesblatt is a hoot as a Mysterious Old Woman.
Special shout-outs to Chris Bankey as Musical Director (and on keyboards) and Steven Dougherty as Choreographer for their fine work, along with musicians Richard Louie on bass; Donna Dixon on clarinet, soprano sax, and bass clarinet; Ethan Gueldenzopf on drums; John Reid on trumpet; Erik Storckman on trombone; and Allison Potanovic on flute. Kudos also to Ron Drobes and Chantale Bourdages for Scenic Design; Ray Poquette for Lighting Design; Suzanne Potoma for Costume Design; T. Todd for Hair and Makeup Design, as well as the rest of the production crew.
I loved it in Demovsky’s Director’s Note when he says, “What is the exact appeal of telling the story of two homosexual men who parent a heterosexual boy…? In my mind, the answer is love…the human need for love and family connection. In today’s world, family has many permutations but love is universal.” It just couldn’t have been better said. There’s also so much to love about Elmwood’s La Cage aux Folles – it’s a story told with heart, laughter, and a stage chock full of tremendous talent. You don’t want to miss this one!
Despite my lifelong avid culture vulturism, I must confess that foreign films (especially ones with subtitles) just aren’t my thing even if they were done by such visionaries as Fellini, Truffaut, and Akira Kurosawa. I did see, however, the 1978 film adaptation of Jean Poiret’s 1973 play, La Cage aux Folles, directed by Edouard Molinaro, starring Ugo Tonazzi and Michel Serrault and I loved it (subtitles and all). In fact, despite it being four decades ago, the film is emblazoned in the YouTube of my mind and I click on it often to see my favorite parts, Unfortunately, I never saw Harvey Fierstein’s 1983 take on it on Broadway. But I did see the 1996 American remake of it retitled The Birdcage. Despite the enormous talents of Mike Nichols and Elaine May and featuring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane (both of whom I love), I felt it was a counterfeit version of the original tour de force.
The plot centers around a gay couple living over and running a drag nightclub. Chaos ensues when the ultra-conservative parents of their son’s fiancée want to meet them. Will true love and understanding triumph over one’s sexual orientation? That is the main theme and question that is answered by the end of the film and the play.
I am thrilled to report that Elmwood’s production of La Cage, masterfully directed by Alan Demovsky, captures the original flavor and tone of the film. The entire cast is absolutely wonderful. The gay couple played by John Ade (Georges) and Larry D. Gabbard (Albin) have incredible chemistry together. Their comic timing is impeccable and their love and respect for each other (even if it’s just a product of their acting) is so palpable that it breaks the fourth wall and touches the audience. While they share many great scenes together, the one where Georges tries to make Albin walk and talk like John Wayne is priceless. A special nod must go to Mr. Gabbard (whom Pillow Talking loved in Other Desert Cities) for his terrific portrayal of his drag queen alter ego, Zaza.
As perfect as Messrs. Ade and Gabbard were together, they had incredible support by a scene-stealing cast. Principal among the scene stealers were the duo of Andrew Greenway (Francis) and Alison Miller (Hanna). Pillow Talking loved Mr. Greenway’s portrayal of Elwood P. Dowd in Elmwood’s Harvey. As Mr. Greenway noted himself at the opening night after party, what a different role this was for him – from the guileless, humble Elwood P. Dowd to the lustful, masochistic pain-loving, boy-toy sex slave of Hanna the Dominatrix played zestfully by Ms. Miller. Talk about 100 Shades of Gray – their background antics were side-splitting. Mr. Greenway’s performance reminded me of the masochistic dental patient played by Jack Nicholson in the original film version of Little Shop of Horrors. Another top scene-stealer was Tom Kiely who played Jacob, part-time maid/part-time butler. His performance was a knock-down-drag-out (pun definitely intended) one. He even milked the audience for laughs by the way he dusted! The perfect foils and polar opposite to Georges and Albin were the Dindons, played respectively by James Lugo and Mariann Felice. (It’s interesting to note that “dindon” in French means “turkey” and was the name of Georges Feydeau’s famous farce Le Dindon – no coincidence I’m sure. The Romeo and Juliet of the play, Jean -Michel and Anne, were competently played by Kaitlyn Kozinski and Damon Quattrochi. Julie Wendholt was spot-on as Jacqueline. The rest of the talented ensemble who played the performers at the nightclub were so good that it was virtually impossible to differentiate who was in drag and who was not. Their genderless first initials with last names in the cast list deliberately kept the identities in doubt, forcing you to check on their bios in the program – so kudos to B. Brink-Rivera, A Francisco, H. Macklay, A. Miller, and T. Todd for their lively and engaging performances. Finally, a shout-out to the last scene-stealer, veteran actress Dolores Hodesblatt, who played the Mysterious Old Woman.
The play worked not only because of the excellent casting and direction, but also because of the great staging and attention to detail. The center aisle runway, the wall projections for the night club, and the swing that was lowered to give the impression of a trapeze act, all led to the verisimilitude of a night club atmosphere. Having the actors break the fourth wall and play to the audience at times was another great effect and proves what a theater with spatial limitations like Elmwood can overcome with creativity and resourcefulness.
Lest I forget, this was not only a straight comedy (no pun intended) but an awesome musical as well thanks to the talents of Christopher Bankey (Musical Director) and Steven Dougherty (Choreography).
My bad, but sometimes I do not always give credit where credit is due – this is mostly to spatial limitations of our reviews. But I must give a special shout-out to Tilden Todd who not only played Chantal in the Ensemble but did Hair & Makeup Design, as well as Suzanne Potoma for costume design. Possibly an even bigger shout-out goes to Alex Francisco (Bitelle) for wigs — we see a lot of theatre, and frankly, most of the time wigs in community theatre look like road kill on top of the actors’ heads. Not so here!
Thank you Elmwood for a thoroughly enjoyable evening at La Cage aux Folles.