La Cage Aux Folles
The smartly dressed older man making his way through the North Shore Music Theater’s parking lot stopped to shout out to a friend a distance away. They both were exiting the warm hearted story of drag performers and one gay family’s embrace of a straight child’s wedding plans: the high strutting, flashy "La Cage Aux Folles."
"I didn’t think I’d like it," he called out, apparently a subscriber who maybe otherwise wouldn’t have seen a show lauding a gay life style.
"It was fun! I liked it!"
So it is that yet one more person has been won over by Harvey Fierstein’s show biz assault on bigotry - a theme present throughout his career, be it against overweight middle-aged housewives (his Tony-winning drag queen portrayal of Edna Turnblad in "Hairspray") or transvestite fashionistas (Broadway stage book for the current smash "Kinky Boots"). See his name on the marquee and you know you’ll be enticed into embracing characters while taking into account their foibles and faults.
Let’s remember too, as a sober side note, that the light-hearted 1983 "La Cage" in all its joyous confrontation of political animosity to gay life was written for the Broadway stage by Fierstein in the darkest days of the AIDS crisis. Moving on to today, what may be taken as a mite preachy or treacly to the converted, Fierstein’s poignant story telling continues to make new friends -- and to entertain all of us.
There’s lots of gusto in this revival of the Tony-winning Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s musical, starring the dashing, graying Charles Shaughnessy and as the highly strung, love of his life, Jonathan Hammond, who is also the main draw of a popular racy transvestite revue.
To the good, Director Charles Repole, who is also the choreographer, has kept this show fast paced. That timing (as if witnessing a racing car careening towards a crash) keeps the show exciting. He’s well assisted here by music direction that provides the musical with its big Broadway show feel from Dale Rieling and the 11-piece North Shore Music Theatre Orchestra that he directs.
The smooth satin, fluffy feathers, and bright spangles clad dancers (costumes by Marcia Zammarelli, wig design by Gerald Kelly) go through their paces on a stage that’s a bit close for the prancing and leg kicks by show girls who are guy-sized. Yet it’s that very proximity that is in the nature of theater-in-the round, that adds to the nightclub ambience, making us feel as if we are the lucky ticket holders squeezed into a sold out cabaret.
The story up-ends the typical coming out-to-your-parents experience. Adapted from Jean Poiret’s play, the basis for the popular 1978 French film (which Mike Nichols successfully remade in English as "The Birdcage" in 1996), "La Cage" begins as the buttoned-down Jean-Michael (pleasantly portrayed by GQ looker Zack Trimmer) returns home to announce his engagement.
His dad is club owner Georges who sired him in a one-night stand that’s still a source of bickering for the gay couple. The boy was brought up by Georges with the flamboyant but maternal Albin.
Now, Jean-Michael wants to bring his fiancée (sweetly played by Stephanie Martignetti) home to meet dad and dad, however, her parents are right wingers, the father a politico who wants to close down gay clubs exactly like the one Georges owns and Albin, as Zaza, entertains in, and the dutiful wife, a repressed stay-at-home hen. Larry Cahn is wonderfully huffy and clueless as M. Dindon, and Maureen Brennan, is properly subdued until she gets swept up in the goings on at chez Georges and Albin’s.
Adding to the domestic upheaval is the live-in maid whose nose gets out of joint when he’s asked to put away the cute little French black dress and white apron so he can serve as a butler instead when the prospective in-laws come for dinner. Nikko Kimzin, is uproariously funny as his hurt feelings overtake him. Broadway vet is Paula Leggett Chase, is very convincing as the high-end restaurateur and friend to Georges and Albin.
"La Cage Aux Folles" has a lot to say about familial affection no matter what, a theme that keeps this musical evergreen.
"La Cage Aux Folles" thru Oct. 6, 2013 at the North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Rd. Beverly. For more info and tickets please phone 978-232-7200 or visit on-line www.nsmt.org.