La Cage Aux Folles – 4.5 stars

Review by Claudia A. Fox Tree

Who’s female? Who’s male? Who cares? The Northshore Music Theatre is presenting LA CAGE AUX FOLLES for the next two weeks under the direction of Charles Repole. The sizzling live orchestra, sensational cast, and superlative dancing had me grinning from ear to ear starting with the first number that ended in a spectacular tap dance. Under the musical direction of Dale Rieling and choreography of Michael Lichtefeld, I felt like I was experiencing burlesque theater without going to New York or Las Vegas – only a short ride to Beverly, Massachusetts!

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES was the winner of multiple Tony Awards when it first appeared in 1983, including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book, (written by Harvey Fierstein). The Northshore Music Theatre’s production transported me to the sparkling La Cage aux Folles nightclub in exotic Saint-Tropez where wigs, women, and wardrobe masquerade a grand party and songs like “We Are What We Are” remind me “it’s all an illusion.” The show is filled with humorous lines about the “Cagelles,” the dancing “girls,” who need to shave their faces. The minimal scenery is dwarfed by the seriously splendid costumes (designing by Marcia Zammarelli) in an environment where being called a “heterosexual” is an insult and everyone’s worst fear is that tomorrow they will appear as a man. These “girls” perform splits, leaps, high kicks, and a merry-go-round of twirls, all in drag – a truly fantastic ensemble. Each of the “Cagelles” is her own character, and there are a lot of them to go around in this “theater in the round” show.

But this show is not just about awesome singing and dancing, it’s also a romantic comedy where family dynamics are pushed to the test when a son decides to bring his fiancee’ home to meet the folks. Georges (played by Charles Shaughnessy, star of The Nanny and Days of Our Lives) and his “wife,” Albin (played by Jonathan Hammond) have been happily together for many years in an apartment above La Cage. Albin’s alter ego Zaza is the drag queen star of the nightly show below. Their 24-year-old son, Jean-Michel (played by Zach Trimmer) explains to his biological father, Georges, that he is engaged to Anne Dindon (played by Stephanie Martignetti), and worried about her conservative parents meeting his fabulously flamboyant “mother,” Albin. He makes an insensitive request that causes Georges to make some bad choices. This serious conversation takes place as the “maid” Jacob (played by Nikko Kimzin) hilariously parades around the house. Just who is who and what is what gets more and more confused as the story unfolds.

Mr. Shaughnessy slipped into his various roles of emcee at La Cage, father, and husband, easily, but I didn’t feel the chemistry between his character, Georges, and his long time love, Albin. I couldn’t buy him as a romantic lover, though his other roles were fantastic. On the other hand, Mr. Hammond’s over-the-top portrayal of star, mother, and wife competed only with Mr. Kimzin’s maid for stealing the show. It was refreshing to have multiple comedic avenues in a production that has its moments of sincerity, as when Albin sings, “A Little More Mascara” and we see his drag transformation on stage. My favorite scene, though, was watching Albin “butter toast like John Wayne.” I laughed out loud. In the end, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, offers an important lesson, that is, life is a sham until you can shout out, “I am what I am.”

If you arrive early, there is a fabulous outdoor Garden Café. Inside, snacks are available like in a movie theater, with pre filled popcorn containers lining the counters for purchase. Keep in mind that due to the mature nature of this show, it may not be suitable for all audiences.

The North Shore Music Theatre made a plea for membership before LA CAGE AUX FOLLES started. Traditionally, NSMT begins their season with a classic show. Next season, they will begin with Anything Goes, then perform Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Grease, Chicago, and finally close the season with Les Miserables, which they have not performed in seven seasons. I would have to agree with the Artistic Director, this upcoming fall season is a great time to become a subscriber.

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