WITH HEART AND SOUL AND HAIRSPRAY “THE BEST OF TIMES” WILL MAKE YOU SMILE.
DON'T MISS THIS "GO SEE" NIGHT AT THE ST. TROPEZ
The La Cage aux Folles nightclub is now open on the second floor of the ornate Kensington Hotel off Union Square. Artistic Director Bill English brings a sizzling glamours LA CAGE AUX FOLLES to his San Francisco Playhouse stage through September 16th. This latest production of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES skillfully communicates the heart and humor of Tony Award-winners Harvey Fierstein for Book, and Jerry Herman for Lyrics and Music with a cast that includes many SFPH favorites like the priceless Ryan Drummond as Georges the host of the La Cage Club.
Set in St. Tropez, France, the La Cage Aux Folles nightclub (the cage of mad women) features an energized cast of wigs and heels. Expertly directed by English who has assembled an excellent cast with some keen decadence and a delightful love story, and he says La Cage hits a triple hit on the SFPH Mission statement “This musical digs deeper than the smile on our faces. It, challenges us to fulfill part two of our mission, to deepen self-awareness.”
Thirty four years ago, August 1983, this Broadway musical opened and was revolutionary in the way that it portrayed gays onstage. It treated gays as equals and was a call for acceptance. LA CAGE went on to win seven Tony Awards including best musical. In 83 it celebrated being open to who you are at a time when gay men were dying from the AIDS epidemic; the same time local state funding refused to acknowledge them. This was a dark time in New York’s history, and LA CAGE was very important to build spirits in a community that was unsure of their future. This shining production brings the love and heart of this story that started out as a play in 1973 France by Jean Poiret. The play led to a popular French film of the same name, then to the musical, and in 1996 the successful American film THE BIRD CAGE with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.
The play's name refers to the drag nightclub where Georges emcees and Albin performs, and its nightclub scenes include numbers by Les Cagelles, the glamorous chorus line. Georges and Albin are turned upside down when Georges’ son, Jean-Michel, announces he’s engaged to the daughter of a religious conservative politician. Jean-Michel tries to block Albin from meeting his future in-laws, but Albin has other plans. To please their son, the two agree to hide their lifestyle and play it ‘straight’. But Albin’s different notion of ‘normal’ threatens to add twisted fun to the entire engagement.
English directs his talented cast at a marvelous pace, allowing just enough time for the laughter to fade and the heartstrings to stop being tugged. This is the third company of La Cage’s players I have seen here on Bay Area stages. Woodminster Theatre in Oakland closed out their 50th season with Georges and Albin, so it was a pleasure to see this smaller version of the musical. English brought the love and fun right to your seat. Robert Hand’s wonderful lighting design focuses on the audience and girls in drag entertaining the sold out crowd down front. The host Georges is in vintage glamour remarkably played by local favorite Drummond. His wonderful solo “With You on My Arm” he sings with his lover Albin played by the charismatic John Treacy Egan.
They are the heart of this show. Drummond hosts the La Cage club as he introduces the show girls; the Cagelles are a visual naughty delight as they open the show with “We Are What We Are”. Set designer Jacquelyn Scott has done an exquisite design using the exciting turntable that English has used for the past three seasons. The Club and small apartment easily spins to reveal the above apartment.
To pull off a cabaret club feel, English has a show ramp that enters the orchestra section of the SFPH cozy venue. Albin as his drag persona Zaza who can easily mingle with the crowd for that intimate feel. The stage “within a stage” feel keeps the show connected to the audience, as the stage turns English adds a sexy layer to the show that is an eye catching surprise. Music director the dynamic Dave Dobrusky orchestra is back stage and as the set spins the nine member pit help bring the two and half hour show a warm feel.
John Treacy Egan and company are stunning in “A Little More Mascara” and the sizzling Cagelles drag dancers, featuring Morgan Dayley, Alex Hsu, Brian Conway, Nicholas Yenson and local favorite John Paul Gonzalez romp in heels, whips and wigs. The wigs designed by the stylistic Laundra Tyme who creates hair for most of the main stage Drag Queens in SF Bay Area.
The impressive Egan is Albin and his stage persona, Zaza, the star of the follies. Egan has an excellent voice and he keenly portrays Georges’ wife and lover. Drummond and Egan are marvelous in the number “Song on the Sand”. Drummond has an excellent voice - that commands the stage and his passionate solo and baritone voice are highlighted in “Look Over There”. Kimberly Richards’ choreography is high kicking from the first number. She keeps her boys tapping in heels and they all are accomplished in the icon song “La Cage aux Folles” and “We Are What We Are”. Richards’ choreography is what we expect to see in a line dance of elegant drag queens and Jacquelyn Scott’s brilliant set bring the girls right to your seat.
English treats the musical honestly, and brings out the dignity in Albin/Zaza and manages to make the villain, M. Dindon, human by the end of the show. Georges has successfully run La Cage for years with his love, Albin, as the club's star attraction, Zaza. His son Jean-Michel, the result of Georges' hetero night of passion with a gorgeous showgirl twenty years ago, returns home to announce his intentions to marry Anne, the daughter of an extremely moral, far-right politician. High jinks ensue as Georges’ and Albin's flat gets 'de-gayed' by Jean-Michel for a visit by Anne’s parents.
Nikita Burshteyn is excellent with the unsympathetically-written character of Jean-Michel. His voice is pitch perfect and in his song "With Anne on My Arm" he reveals the charming, innocent love between Jean-Michel and the endearing Samantha Rose as Anne. With a warm chemistry, Burshteyn and Rose dance a lovely pas de deux like polished pros. Egan as Albin is convincing at adding some tears to his performance, especially when Jean-Michel eventually apologizes with "Look Over There (reprise)."
In Jerry Herman’s iconic first-act closer ballad for Albin, “I Am What I Am,” Egan shows his passion and gentility. The excellent second-act ensemble performance of “The Best of Times” is an important part of this enduring love story and, thanks to Drummond’s strong voice and subtle acting, it is tearfully memorable.
The hilarious Brian Yates Sharber is a welcome back to Bay Area theatre as he is a scene stealer as Jacob, Albin's "I want to be on stage" maid/butler. The comic timing of his witty one liners consistently upstages the scenes from his talented cohorts. The alluring Lee Ann Payne has a realistic Euro accent as the opportunistic restaurant owner Jacqueline and captures one of the few strong female roles. Josiah Frampton and Noelani Neal, play cabaret visitors and supporting roles. Francis the stage manager played by the likable Robert Faltisco, offers a great comic shtick that I won’t spoil, inspired by his crush on Cagelle Hanna whip decadently played by the talented John Paul Gonzalez.
Christopher Reber and Adrienne Herro are the perfect blind couple to portray the Dindons, the anti-homosexual, conservative parents of Jean-Michel's bride-to-be. Reber, as the villain, milks his unwelcome moment in the nightclub spotlight with comedic class, while Herro, as the submissive wife, Madame Dindon, surprises all, bursting out with her unexpected operatic pipes.
Some stand-out hysterical moments include Georges' lessons butching-up Albin in "Masculinity", Sterling’s comic walks like a man are a show stopping and when the Dindons try to figure out the erotic artwork on the dinner plates. Herro is fun and feisty and perfect in the role as Anne’s mom. Abra Berman’s many costumes for both the Les Cagelles, and Zaza are over the top wonderful gowns campy feather boas matched with their heels, and makeup created by Creme Fatale. Award winning sound designer Theodore J.H. Hulsker keeps the cast and orchestra a perfect match and he had to deal with so many costume changes and the sound design is effective even as wigs and gowns could cover those body mics.
The craft team for this production has used the entire venue to create the LaCage club. Robert Hand’s lighting brings his night club lighting mixed with rows of show lights, and follow spots, the lights at La Cage aux Folles are dazzling. The cabaret nightclub set designed by Scott utilizes the Cagelles art deco dance line and she brings the chorus downstage. Her use of gold pastel color works with the french deco for both the living room and Folles club sets. Scott’s props included those sexy trinkets in the apartment and elegant plates that shocked the Dindon family. Musical director Dobrusky leads a spirited back-stage orchestra that is a crowd pleaser and keeps the lavish musical moving.
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES has tons of heart, and the energy to display it without compromise. Bill English’s grand production celebrates “We are what we are” and “I am what I am” with pride. This summer marked the anniversary of Gay Marriage and this company has brought that home. With humor and heart, this “La Cage” is a glorious romp that allows the audience to laugh, cry a little and take away a deeper message of acceptance even under wigs, heels, layers of makeup and feathers. The second act closer “The Best of Times” will touch your heart and remind us how special we all are. The sparkling cast provides polished entertainment, and the heartfelt storyline is a classic, it may be gaudy, but it never goes out of style. Bring your own champagne glasses and toast to the LA CAGE AUX FOLLES.
SAN FRANCISCO PLAYHOUSE
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman, based on the play by Jean Poiret
Directed by Bill English
Musical Director Dave Dobrusky
Choreographer Kimberly Richards
Only through Sept 16th
Two and half hours one intermission
SAN FRANCISCO PLAYHOUSE
450 Post Street, Second Floor of The Kensington Park Hotel
one block from Union Square
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and
8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 16
Tickets: $30 to $125
Photo's by Jessica Palopoli
BEHIND THE SCENES WITH THE CAST AND PRODUCTION TEAM OF LA CAGE SFPH
Coming up next at SFPH in their Sandbox Series is the world premiere of Kirsten Greenidge's ZENITH at ACT'S Costume Shop, Market Street, San Francisco, running August 16 through September 10.