“La Cage aux Folles” never misses a beat

Posted: Sunday, September 14, 2014 12:00 am

For sheer fun and the heartfelt celebration of people being whoever they are, you’d be hard pressed to find a more joyous presentation than “La Cage aux Folles,” which opened Friday night at Theatre Alliance.

With beautifully harmonized show tunes, live music, dazzling costumes and ensemble choreography that’s somewhere between sheer athleticism and can can splits, there’s hardly a skipped beat in this production. “La Cage” is Harvey Fierstein’s award-winning salute to love and family, and Jamie Lawson has directed an able cast with talent and great timing. The movie version, “The Bird Cage,” starred Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

The story is simple enough. Georges and Albin have been homosexual partners for 20 years. Georges owns a nightclub known as “La Cage aux Folles” in the south of France. Albin is not only his partner but the star of his show known as ZaZa who is surrounded by an ensemble of female impersonators known as Les Cagelles and a “maid” known as Jacob – all of whom relish being free enough to love, sing, dance and dress any way they please.

Over the years, Georges and Albin have raised Georges’s son, Jean-Michel, who has now become engaged to a beautiful young woman named Anne. But Anne’s father just happens to be Deputy Dindon, the country’s top politician leading the charge against homosexuality, and Dindon is as far-right as Jean-Michel’s parents tilt left.

As much as Jean-Michel wants his parents to meet Anne’s parents, he knows that Albin, a drag queen, would be a stretch, and so he requests that his father ask Albin please not to be present. Albin is crushed, and the rest of the show is a mismatch of false identities, sight gags and fabulous one-liners: “A lush is more acceptable than a fruit” is just one.

As a compromise, Albin is asked to really appear as Jean-Michel’s Uncle Albert, but, instead, turns the tables and appears as his actual mother (still dressing to the nines) who just happens to be a singer who steals hearts. Etcetera.

The truth comes out, and everyone drops all kinds of attitudes. At the end of the first act, Albin sings the show’s anthem, “I Am What I Am,” and by the end of the show, everyone – future in-laws included – discover that love and family, not how the family looks and not how they act, is what’s really important.

Extravaganza is another way to talk about the celebration on stage. The entire cast rollicks through the production, and several deliver knock-out performances. Chuck King as Georges has an exquisite singing voice and very fluid delivery. He genuinely loves both Albin and his son, and his performance is nuanced, heartfelt and memorable. Gray Smith as Albin may be in the role of a lifetime. Smith has long proved his flair for campy characters, but his singing has never been stronger, and when he reveals his serious side, we are with him completely. Dave Wils as the son displays genuine love for the parents and friends who reared him and embodies the central point of the show: Family is family and love is love.

A surprise debut is Tyler Carlson, who plays Albin’s maid/butler, Jacob, an adorable would-be diva who sounds like Ja Ja Binks in “Star Wars,” but with a French accent. Watch out for him. He obviously has all kinds of talent just waiting for more shows.