|Les Cagelles in "La Cage aux Folles"|
(photo: Diane Sobolewski)
The 1978 film “La Cage aux Folles”, based on a play by Jean Poiret, was a surprise hit (given that it was the story of a gay couple, in French with subtitles) when it opened, becoming the highest grossing foreign language film in U.S. History. There were two French sequels, as well as a non-musical English language remake in 1996 that was less memorable. Perhaps most surprising was its subsequent success in 1983 as a Broadway musical. With a Book by Harvey Fierstein and Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman, it probably shouldn't have been such a big surprise. It went on to be nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning six, including Best Musical, Book and Score, and ran for four years. Its Broadway revivals in 2004 and 2010 both won Tony Awards for Best Musical Revivals as well. The current Goodspeed Musicals version has a stupendously talented cast of twenty-one and an awesome creative team who've pulled out all the stops for this one.
The setting is a drag nightclub in St. Tropez, managed by Georges (James Lloyd Reynolds) and starring his romantic partner of twenty years and headlining entertainer, Albin (Jamison Stern). All's going reasonably well until Georges' twenty-four-year-old son, Jean-Michel (Conor Ryan) wants his father to meet his fiancée Anne (Kristen Martin) and her ultra-conservative parents (Stacey Scotte and Mark Zimmerman, the latter being the Deputy of the Family and Morality Party). Also involved are Georges' and Albin's butler (who prefers to be called their maid) Jacob (Cedric Leiba Jr.), and their friend Jacqueline (Sue Mathis), owner of an upscale restaurant. And then there are those dancers in the nightclub, Les Cagelles! Suffice it to say that once all these characters intermingle, as they say, hilarity ensues.
The story is a wise and witty one, at full throttle in this marvelous and unforgettable production both with respect to the performances (by a flawless cast of twenty-one) and the inventive creative team. Leading the cast in every sense of the term is Stern, whose turn as the diva of the day is utterly mesmerizing, at one moment hilarious, at the next, heartbreaking. Giving tremendous support are Reynolds as his devoted lover, the bedimpled Ryan and Martin as the charming newly engaged couple, the uptight twosome of Scotte and Zimmerman, and the over-the-top terrific scene-stealing Leiba. The barbs fly effortlessly, as does the singing. They all do great justice to the score which, while consisting of only nine songs (several of which are reprised), has some true standouts, notably the lovely “Song on the Sand”, the moving gay anthem “I Am What I Am” and the most popular, “The Best of Times”.
But its the stunning Direction by Rob Ruggiero (who helmed last season's unforgetable “Fiddler on the Roof” for Goodspeed), and the wondrous Choreography by Ralph Perkins, that make this production near-perfect, especially with regard to those aforementioned Cagelles: Darius Barnes, Michael Bullard, Alexander Cruz, Wade Dooley, Alex Ringler, Nick Silverio, and Nic Thompson, as well as (surprise!) Erin M. Kernion and Barbara McCulloh. The work of the creative team includes fabulous Costume Design by Michael McDonald, breathtaking Scenic Design by Michael Schweikardt (awash in pink, no less), excellent Lighting Design by John Lasiter and Sound Design by Jay Hilton, with superb Musical Direction by Goodspeed regular Michael O'Flaherty.
Given a certain recent Supreme Court decision, the show is more relevant and resonant today than ever, a true marvel of our age, and a “La Cage” for the ages. This is indeed “The Best of Times”, the perfect time for "La Cage aux Folles" to come out fully from that age-old closet.