— L-R: Cadence Winter Matthews, Ian Yuri Gardner, Iona Whipp, Greg Armstrong-Morris, Celestial Seasons, Peach Cobblah, Kiki Lawhore.
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
You wouldn’t necessarily think that a musical about gay transvestites with performers named Kiki Lawhore and Iona Whipp would offer holiday entertainment for the whole family. But La Cage Aux Folles is so good natured and sentimental, and Max Reimer’s Playhouse production so relatively sanitized, that even Newt Gingrich might bring his grandchildren without much fear of offense.
Apart from some naughty vamping by the chorus girls, La Cage has less daring sexual content than most episodes of Glee. Trouble is there’s less pizzazz here, too.
Greg Armstrong-Morris scores high on the pizzazz-o-meter as Albin, aka Zaza, star of the revue at the St. Tropez drag club La Cage Aux Folles and long-time “wife” of club manager Georges (David Marr). A terrific singer with a richly textured voice, Armstrong-Morris plays Albin/Zaza with a skilful combination of comic effeminacy and drag dignity, epitomized in his anthems “A Little More Mascara” and “I Am What I Am.”
The show comes to life whenever Albin takes the stage and it sizzles when he’s accompanied by butler/maid Jacob, played by Vincent Tong with no-holds-barred, scene-stealing outrageousness.
At heart though, La Cage is a gentle love story about middle-aged men, and composer Jerry Herman has written a gentle, often dull score to match. Sentimental ballads “With You on My Arm,” “Song on the Sand” and “Look Over There” are all sung at least twice with Georges as lead voice. David Marr, while a very likeable actor, is not an especially strong singer. I was disappointed that the women in the cast with great voices (Tracey Power, Annabel Kershaw) have so little to do.
The thin plot kicks in when Georges and Albin’s son (Scott Perrie) announces his engagement to a girl whose father (Andrew Wheeler) heads the conservative Tradition, Family and Morality party. Preparing to meet the ultra-straight parents, Albin gets coached in a very funny scene on how to act butch. But in the end Albin will be what he is. The play reaffirms its politics of gay identity, and love and cross-dressing conquers all.
As might be expected from a show about flamboyant drag queens, La Cage is a visual treat. Phillip Clarkson’s many marvellous costumes play a starring role, highlighted by killer red dresses and lots of feathers. Pam Johnson’s flashy sets are also fun. Director Max Reimer’s choreography provides some nice moments in a show with surprisingly little featured dancing.
High marks to Michael Kidder for the crystal-clear sound and to Bill Sample’s six-piece orchestra for sounding much larger.
A merry musical Christmas and happy theatrical Chanukah to all.