Nothing can hold the musical ‘La Cage aux Folles’ together better than the showstopper ‘I Am What I Am’. If you know the show, you know that when Albin/Zaza (David Engel) pours his heart out in that number, making no excuses for the fact that he is a homosexual, he has captured every heart of the opening night audience.
“La Gage aux Folles” based on the 1973 French play of the same name by Jean Poiret with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Harvey Fierstein is closing out a successful musical season for the San Diego Musical Theatre. It will be running through Oct. 11th at the Spreckels Theatre downtown under the direction of Larry Raben.
The show first hit Broadway in 1983 and received nine Tony nominations and actually won six including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. The 2004 Broadway revival won the Tony for Best Revival and the 2008 the London revival got the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Revival of a Musical.
Georges (Robert Townsend) and his life partner, Albin/Zaza, (Engel) have been together long enough to have a son old enough to marry. Georges fathered the boy but Albin has always been the ‘mother figure’ since his biological mother had been absent all his life. The men live above the cabaret, ‘La Cage aux Folles’ located on prime property along The French Rivera. The Folles theatre is a bit dated yet still functions as a renowned hall of entertainment.
The show features six Cagelles dressed in drag. They perform some pretty outlandish dances and bird like interpretations inside and outside their cage (the bird cage?), in and around the stage and across a catwalk set up below the apron of the stage at the Spreckels. (‘We Are Who we Are’ and ‘La Cage aux Folles’)
On stage Georges is straight man/master of ceremonies and Albin is the star performer, drag queen, Zaza. (‘A Little More Mascara’). Upstairs things couldn’t be or look any more inside out or upside down than if you walked into the Fun House at a carnival. Two towering male nude statues become the focal point of set designers Bret Young and David Medina. There are other photos/ pictures hanging about, but noticeable only after gawking at the two statues. The furniture is also a bit, shall we say, fru-fru, but no matter.
George and Albin’s story alternates between the on stage entertainment and getting Zaza ready for her performance at the club downstairs. Upstairs the sensitive business of whether Albin will be able to stay in the apartment when Georges son Jean-Michael (Bren Thor Johnson) brings his fiancée Anne’s (Ashley Ruth Jones) conservative parents to meet his ‘parents’ brings outrage and anger to Albin.
Jean-Michael wants Albin out of sight for the duration of their stay since he is afraid that if the parents (David Mitchum Brown and Debra Wanger) see his father’s life style they will forbid their daughter from marrying. Needless to say, this conundrum reaches an uncompromising rift between Georges and Albin, ergo ‘I Am What I Am’.
Townsend, a long time favorite son of San Diego audiences, with talent to spare (remember his performance in ‘Next To Normal’?) plays Georges with some hesitancy at the top of the show but warms up to the role as it gathers momentum and the two men fit comfortably into their respective roles. When performing or just being the couple that lives above the club, the two look great together especially in one of the last scenes when all is well with the world. (‘Song on the Sand’)
There is however one scene in which Georges is trying to get Albin to muster some masculine gusto and tutors him on how to walk like John Wayne, sit with his knees apart and keep his pinky finger down when drinking his tea. (‘Masculinity’). It is a hoot of a scene.
Having a ball in role of Jacob the maid/butler, choreographer/director extraordinaire James Vasquez, moves from behind the scenes to front of house acting rocking it out with his over the top antics. He makes the role of Jacob come to life in some of the funniest moments of the evening.
Costume coordinator Janet Pitcher gives the cast all the right looks that are rooted in then 70’s and Kevin Anthehill’s sound design ran into too many glitches to be overlooked.
Choreographer Karl Warden oversees the spirited dancing and San Diego Musical director Don Le Master is behind the keyboards leading the way with Herman’s lyrics and music bringing a rowdy sing along with the cast in ‘The Best of Times’.
With the latest Supreme Court ruling on the equality of marriage, it is indeed, The Best Of Times for many that were looked down upon as second-class citizens.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Oct. 11th
Organization: San Diego Musical Theatre
Production Type: Musical
Where: 121 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: Start at $35.00
Venue: Spreckels Theatre