Nancy Sasso Janis
A smart and classy version of the farce ‘La Cage aux Folles’ has been extended through September 10 at the beautiful Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam and it truly is “The Best of Times.” This show holds the honor of being the only musical that has won a Tony Award for Best Production (Best Musical or Best Revival of a Musical) for each of its Broadway productions.
Goodspeed Musicals produced the sassy show with a book by Harvey Fierstein (‘Newsies’ and ‘Kinky Boots’) and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman (‘Hello, Dolly’ and ‘Mame’) which is based on a 1973 play by Jean Poiret of the same name. ‘La Cage’ inspired the hilarious film ‘The Birdcage’ with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.
Mr. Herman’s shiny show tunes fill this over-the-top story of a family of cabaret performers led by long-time partners Georges and Albin. The pair own a drag nightclub in Saint-Tropez, France and have lovingly raised Georges’ son to adulthood. When Jean-Michel (played by Conor Ryan) brings home his fiancee and ultra-conservative future in-laws, the family’s dynamics are put to the test in a deliciously funny yet poignant manner.
Of course the nightclub ‘La Cage aux Folles’ (which translates literally to "the cage of mad women") looks amazing on the tiny Goodspeed stage with a very pink set designed by Michael Schweikardt.There is “a little guts and a lot of glitter” without being vulgar and costume designer Michael McDonald has outdone himself. The chorus looked amazing in their multitude of changes, and even an usher sported a pink boa.
Rob Ruggiero has smartly directed the action with slick choreography by Ralph Perkins. Music Director Michael O’Flaherty conducted the talented pit orchestra. Kudos to Mark Adam Rampmeyer of his work with hair, wig and makeup design.
Darius Barnes (Phaedra,) Michael Bullard (Chantal,) Alexander Cruz (Mercedes,) Alex Ringler (Hanna,) Nick Silverio (Clo-Clo) and Nic Thompson (Bitelle) were so good as the “Notorious Cagelles and I marvelled at their ability to change quickly. Erin M. Kernion rounded out the ensemble and played the ingenue Nicolette as well.
Chris Hietikko and Barbara McCulloh played a couple that own a cafe. Kristen Martin played the beautiful Anne who wants nothing more than to wed Jean-Michel. Stacey Scotte was believable as her mother and Mark Zimmerman was perfectly boorish as her father. Sue Mathys played the sassy restaurant owner Jacqueline. The beleaguered stage manager of La Cage aux Folles was played to perfection by Wade Dooley.
Cedric Leiba, Jr. was so wonderful in the role of the smart and sassy “maid” Jacob that he repeatedly had the press night audience applauding as he closed the obligatory doors as he exited the stage. He got the lion’s share of the laughs in what was a laugh-filled evening.
James Lloyd Reynolds brought lots of charm to the leading role of Georges and had a wonderful singing voice. Jamison Stern was amazingly accurate as the flamboyant Albin and brought down the house as Zaza sang the anthem “I Am What I Am” at the close of act one. Such was the power of his beautiful voice and stage presence.
My teen and I really enjoyed this show that was a new one for us. Remember that it is a farce and focus of the fun. Don’t expect the setting, the music and the jokes from the film version and you won’t be disappointed. This Goodspeed Musicals interpretation is up to their usual standards of quality and deserves the extended run.