Review: “La Cage Aux Folles” at San Francisco Playhouse

Review: “La Cage Aux Folles” at San Francisco Playhouse

Jordan Nickels

On Saturday evening, I climbed the steps of the San Francisco Playhouse to enter a theater transformed into the gaudy yet fabulous night club of 1983 musical La Cage Aux Folles.  This musical makes you laugh, makes you cry, and gives you a traditional Broadway score performed by a cast of not so traditional characters. But this production captures the heart that the original production accomplished, during a time when a musical with two men falling in love was taboo.

Credit is given to this incredibly talented cast, that makes this production truly shine. Ryan Drummond as Georges charmed and complimented the hilarious John Treacy Egan as Albin/Zaza, who gave an astounding performance of the musical’s Act I Finale “I Am What I Am.” While Brian Yates Sharber’s Jacob was just breaking into the chorus, he quickly snatched the spotlight and stole the show. Credit must also be given to the impeccable singing and dancing talents of Nikita Burshteyn as Jean-Michel. And who could forget the chorus of Les Cagelles performers, each lady as glamourous and unique as the last.

In what appears to be a smaller venue at first glance, I was not expecting the incredible rotating set. Between Georges and Albin’s apartment, to the café outside, each were equally full of French charm. As the scenes changed, the set slowly turned to show a shadow box illuminating the alluring Cagelles girls that elevated the ambiance of La Cage. The costume, hair, and makeup team should be commended for bringing to life the incredible drag scene that is a staple in San Francisco, from Zaza’s performance outfits to Jacob’s powdered wig and colonial garb. 

In 1983, La Cage Aux Folles had its first tryout in Boston, going somewhere theater had never gone before regarding LGBT stories for a Broadway audience. The creative team of Jerry Herman, Harvey Fierstein, and Arthur Laurents huddled in the back of the theater, wondering what they got themselves into. However, audiences were met with a love story between two homosexual men, and cheered at the finale as they walked into the sunset. The musical was a hit.

While La Cage Aux Folles is known for its themes of drag and gay relationships, many forget to mention the musical’s strong since of family values. During a time now where LGBT rights and representation are so important, it’s refreshing to see La Cage represent a new modern family, showing this musical stands the tests of time. In the song “Look Over There,” Georges reminds Jean-Michel of how Albin stepped in to take care of them and treated Jean as his own son. “Someone puts himself last, so that you can come first.” As entertaining as this cast was to watch, they also brought the emotional impact of this story, showing us that sometimes in the LGBT community, we not only get to pick our families, but sometimes they also get to choose us.  

For an evening of fantastic drag, incredible music, and heartfelt characters, be sure to visit the San Francisco Playhouse’s production of La Cage Aux Folles, running until September 16th.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com , Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8

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