La Cage Aux Folles – 5 stars
La Cage Aux Folles, runs through November 23, 2014, Directed by Kipp Simmons, Musical Direction by Martha Risser, at the Barn Theatre. See www.TheBarnPlayers.org.
You don’t need to read this review. Just go see La Cage Aux Folles and leave the Barn players a big donation. Go go go!
A friend once told me, “You’re as cool as you want to be.” Put on a fancy hat and you can be a fashionista if you can pull it off. In this production of La Cage Aux Folles, the Barn Players try on a difficult production and pull it off in style.
La Cage Aux Folles is a musical comedy, set in a drag nightclub where the men dress as women, and the women dress as… men dressed as women. The gay men who run the nightclub live in a bubble, protected from the outside world and its prejudice against their lifestyle. The trouble starts when their son makes an announcement that reveals the bigotry in the outside world. The show, while portraying the troubles of being gay, doesn’t drift into melodrama. It’s grounded and real, celebrating the drag lifestyle while acknowledging its problems, internally and with society. The show’s physical and scripted humor is laugh-out-loud funny. The jokes are very sexual, but using innuendo rather than blunt gross out terms. There is no nudity. Thus the show is sort of safe for a mature child. It’s playful rather than demeaning, witty rather than base.
Their cast of 15 has not a single bad actor, which is unusual for community theatre. Kudos to Erica Baruth, who plays a crazy French woman with mischievous joie de vivre that doubles the laughs written for her in the script. I love that accent! Kudos to Samantha Agron, who tap danced in high heels. Kudos to Katie Bartow, whose challenge was to portray romantic chemistry despite having few lines, and strongly sold her relationship. Of course the center of the production was the male cast, although few of them dressed like men! It’s hard to pick a favorite. I’ll just have to say that for Max Mammele to pull off not just being a dominatrix but to show the thrill of being one, he must have big fearless balls. That’s a bad analogy.
Nothing sells like confidence, and it’s the remarkable confidence of the cast that makes the show thrill. In this musical they don’t just perform on stage. They act like their characters are living their dream, being their real selves, and not in a way that is shallow. I just reviewed Shear Madness at the New Theatre and called them out for their production’s flaming gay stereotype. Their show’s gay man is weak and powerless, a cartoon. The Barn Theatre shows not just the on-stage antics of drag queens but the complexities and causes of their personalities. There is excellent chemistry between the two gay men, between them and their son, and between the son and someone else in the cast. You can see the love there, and that’s what sets us up to like these characters, so that later on we empathize with them and their pain. If you come in not much wanting to know about the emotional turbulence and trials of being a drag queen, during the show you’ll realize that really you do! The production shows the ‘everyman’ in an occupation that, well, it’s not for every man! To any of the cast who is not a drag queen in real life: honey, you are ready. The dancers inhabited the role of a woman with feminine dance moves and gestures throughout. The forceful choreographed kicking and stomping was emblematic of what a person with a man’s strength can do while dancing as a woman on stage: the best of both worlds.
The songs are catchy, and they are acted out to make specific points about the characters and their emotional journey. The song that begins the show, “I am what I am,” acknowledges that, “Well, we are drag queens, can’t fight it, might as well celebrate it.” The reprise later in the show by Dudley Hogue (Albin) brought me almost to tears. These gentlemen share an interest outside the mainstream that is harmless but has been the brunt of much hatred. The choreography is perfect, not only during the dance numbers, but during the dialogue. Constant movement made the scenes dynamic, and they made good use of the “thrust stage” that extends a portion of the stage out towards the audience. At one point, Eric Magnus (Georges) interacted with the audience with masterful crowd work, in character, taking complete command of the crowd with sexual innuendos and teasing. It is possible that someone in the cast was struggling with asthma, for which we are grateful, because the show must go on, and which did not show at all in the performance. The venue is attractive, seats 120, and has inexpensive refreshments. You can watch the live orchestra on a big screen TV in the back.
It’s a bit difficult to find the names of the cast from their photos in the program. They all look so different in real life! That is a compliment to the makeup and costume design, who transformed the actors completely. Each character had an appearance suiting his (her?) role, with clear differences between them that helped us track who was who. Sadly I could not learn the names of these troupe members, nor that of the lighting designer, who thrilled us especially in the first few seconds, to hide who exactly was on stage. Great use of the lighting allowed us to see the curtain as either in front (back stage scene) or behind (on stage scene).
Every part of La Cage Aux Folles at the Barn Theatre is fantastic. It’s a struggle to find something negative to say. To me it was a mistake to play a broken arm and a black eye for laughs. Those aren’t healthy parts of rough sex. They cross a line into physical abuse. A couple of sound glitches occurred. One of spotlights made a hum, and the orchestra sometimes overpowered the singers, for example in the quiet opening number. None of this put a dent in my enjoyment of the show. It is well paced, entertaining, touching but not maudlin, thrilling but not uncomfortably so for this open-minded straight male reviewer.
You could tell that the cast loved what they were doing, and members of the audience instead of sitting silently chatted with their neighbors before the show and during intermission. After the show, the actors came out to greet the crowd. The Barn Theatre has clearly built a close community. You should join it. La Cage Aux Folles gets a hearty 5 stars.
For more, see www.TheBarnPlayers.org.