La Cage aux Folles

A Loving, But Unconventional Family Story

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

When a gay couple’s son wants to marry a girl, one man asks the other, “Where have we gone wrong?” That bit of reverse humour sets the tone for La Cage aux Folles, now playing on the Avon Theatre stage at the Stratford Festival.

Georges owns a nightclub called La Cage aux Folles in St. Tropez on the French Riviera. His partner, Albin, is the headliner at the club, which features drag queens. Albin transforms into Zaza, backed by a glorious group of dancers, The Cagelles, all in drag. Georges has a son, Jean-Michel, from an early experimental liaison. Jean-Michel’s mother was never interested in raising him, so Georges did, along with his partner Albin, who assumed a motherly role.

Jean-Michel is in love with Anne, but there is one problem. Anne’s father Deputy Dindon is a politician whose platform includes morality and family values. He believes homosexuality to be perverse. So when Anne and her straitlaced parents come for a visit, a plan is hatched to hide Jean-Michel’s parents’ relationship, and the nightclub. What could go wrong? Well, everything, but you will have to see the show.

Long time Stratford favourites, Steve Ross and Sean Arbuckle, with 21 and 22 seasons respectively, play Albin/Zaza and Georges. As Zaza, Albin is a diva. Ross is dazzling in the role, donning the body suit to create curves, then singing beautifully. At the end of Act I, he sings “I am What I am” bringing tears to every eye in the audience with the heartfelt lyrics.

Arbuckle is perfect as Georges – keeping the nightclub running smoothly while handling the role of emcee, looking after his son, and overseeing the household and the crazy butler. But most importantly, he keeps Albin/Zaza on an even keel. Arbuckle has the “take charge” attitude necessary for the role, but he also shows his warm, loving and romantic side.

Their son, Jean-Michel is played perfectly by James Daly. We believe in his love for Anne, when he sings “With Anne on my Arm”, in his rich voice. Also part of this unconventional family is Chris Vergara as Jacob, who is supposed to be the butler but prefers the title of maid. Vergara is delightfully funny and it soon becomes apparent that he’d rather be on stage than doing housework. Heather Kosik as Anne is charming, and immediately the audience is rooting for her and Jean-Michel. M. Dindon is a decidedly unpleasant character as a politician who is the deputy for the Tradition, Family and Morality Party. Juan Chioran handles the role of the stuffy, right-wing conservative, cultivating laughter as he realizes what kind of a family his daughter will be joining. Sara-Jeanne Hosie as his wife, Mme Dindon, creates comedy as she loosens up on the dance floor.

Most impressive are the members of the Cagelles, the dancing drag queens. Their dance skills are excellent, with credit going to choreographer Cameron Carver.

La Cage aux Folles has a great history, in France and on Broadway as well as cinema. It began as a French play, and later Harvey Fierstein created the musical. When it opened on Broadway in 1983, sadly, the AIDs epidemic was spreading, mostly to young gay men, and homophobia was intense. Some scenes, such as Georges and Albin kissing, were eliminated or toned down. Nevertheless, the show won nine Tony awards, and ran for four years, with rivivals mounted in 2004 and 2010. The 1996 movie, The Bird Cage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane was set in Miami instead of France. It became a commercial success, remaining a popular classic comedy.

By the way, La Cage aux Folles translates from the French to The Cage of Crazy Women. Even better, the politician’s name, Dindon translates to Turkey.

With a talented cast and heart-warming script, La Cage au Folles is just the show we need in tough times. You will come out of the theatre with a lighter step, a smile on your face, and a soft spot in your heart.

This is the year for musicals at Stratford Festival. La Cage aux Folles is a glorious, hilarious comedy that offers a sweet tug on the heartstrings. Then, over at the Festival Theatre, Something Rotten! is generating hearty laughter. You must see both; you cannot choose one over the other.

La Cage aux Folles continues in repertory until October 26 at the Avon Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca

Photos: Upper: Steve Ross as Albin playing Zaza (centre) with from left: Jordan Goodridge as Mercedes, Josh Doig as Chantal, David Andrew Reid as Bitelle, Eric Abel as Hanna, David Ball as Phaedra and George Absi as Angelique. Lower: Sean Arbuckle as Georges (left) and Steve Ross as Albin in La Cage aux Folles. Stratford Festival 2024. Photos by David Hou.

La Cage aux Folles
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Based on the play by Jean Poiret
Directed by Thom Allison
Choreographed by Cameron Carver
Assistant Director Thomas Alderson
Performed by Sean Arbuckle, Steve Ross, Juan Chioran, James Daly, Aiden deSaliz, Starr Domingue, Heather Kosik, et al.
Avon Theatre, Stratford
May 31 to October 28, 2024
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Full disclosure: The reviewer is the mother of the assistant director.

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