La Cage aux Folles

I Am What I Am

La Cage aux Folles is a wonderful story of acceptance. “We are what we are” is the message: Don’t judge your family and those who love you the most, just love them back unconditionally. And while this show tugs at your emotions and comes packaged with lessons well worth remembering, it is also a hilarious comedy.

Born as a French play, La Cage aux Folles later became a French movie. Then Harvey Fierstein rewrote it as a musical and it opened first on Broadway in 1984. An American English language movie was created, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. The Broadway musical has been revived twice, most recently with Kelsey Grammar in one of the lead roles, and has won many Tony awards.  In all these incarnations, the funny, touching story has been the constant.

Georges owns La Cage aux Folles, a drag queen night club on the French Riviera, where his long-time partner, Albin, stars as the diva Zsa Zsa. They are surprised when Georges’ son, Jean-Michel tells them he is marrying Anne, the daughter of a politician who is notorious for his inflexible stance on conservative family and morality issues. Jean-Michel has invited Anne’s straight-laced and strict parents over to meet his parents, and tells Albin he can’t be present, preferring that his birth mother, who has been absent in his life, be on hand, to pretend that his parents are happily married and not involved with the night club. Of course, Albin, who raised Jean-Michel, is heartbroken. Then the pretence crumbles with comedic twists and turns.

Neptune Theatre’s production does justice to the endearing and witty plot, enhancing it with excellent singing and dancing. Steven Gallagher as Albin-slash-Zsa Zsa captures and keeps our attention throughout the show. Gallagher is great fun as the diva but he also tugs at our heartstrings when he is excluded by his family. When he belts “I am what I am” at the end of Act I, there is not a dry eye in the house.

The Cagelles, six young men in full drag, are amazing singers and dancers. Credit goes to choreographer Mike Jackson for his excellent work with this group. From can-can kicks to splits, the dancing is first-rate. Grown men in high heels, they are smooth on their feet: Chad McNamara, Erik Markewich, Devin Herbert, Joel Taylor and Andrew Taylor, with special mention to Zak Kearns for his back flips in heels!

David Lopez is an audience favourite as Jacob, the family’s butler who really wants to be a maid, and longs for the day he can go on stage with the Cagelles. Lopez provides the comedy with his quirky moves and sassy attitude. Ian Simpson as Georges and Chris Zonneville as Jean-Michel both bring rich singing voices to their roles.

The costumes are extraordinary: the Cagelles change frequently into various styles with sparkle and glitter. I particularly enjoyed the can-can costumes, with the old-fashion bonnets, ruffled pinafores under their dresses, and to complete the look, there were even lacy ruffles on each derriere. The Cagelles have a fabulous wardrobe, from ball gowns to bikinis in the style of synchronized swimmers.

One final note: My son, Thomas Alderson, is swing and understudy in this production. A swing is a dancer who can cover any of the dancers should they have illness or injury. He is swing for the six Cagelles, plus understudies two other roles. At this writing he has performed once, but I did not see him on stage when I attended two performances during my Halifax visit. While I was sorry not to see him perform, I am glad to report that the entire cast is healthy and happy! And even though I encouraged them to “break a leg”, no one has…

La Cage aux Folles continues at The Neptune Theatre in Halifax until May 27. For tickets, go to www.neptunetheatre.com.

La Cage aux Folles
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman
Directed by George Pothitos
Choreographed by Mike Jackson
Musical direction by Patrick Burwell
Performed by Steven Gallagher, Ian Simpson et al.
Neptune Theatre, Halifax
April 10 to May 27, 2012
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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