Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, January 2008
This is the best production of La Cage Aux Folles in the world. Well, okay, somewhere on this planet there is probably a production with snazzier sets. But there is not a better over-all production anywhere anyhow because only the production at the Cohoes Music Hall has Jim Charles as Albin. He is SOOOOooooo fabulous! Ooo la la doesn’t even begin to describe it.
There are many, many other reasons to go and see this show. It is lively and colorful. Director Tralen Doler’s choreography remains fantastically athletic and what is even more astonishing is that C-R Productions has gathered together yet another crew of “Cagelles” who can perform it without dropping dead of exhaustion. The whole cast is top notch – about half of them returning to the same roles they played in the first C-R Productions mounting of this show back in May of 2006.
If you have not seen La Cage... in one of its many film and stage iterations, it is an old-fashioned musical comedy with a plot that could have been penned by Neil Simon in about 1965. Except that its about gay men. Specifically Georges (Jerry Christakos) and Albin (Charles) who run a transvestite night club called La Cage Aux Folles* in St. Tropez on the French Riviera. Albin, in his drag persona as Zaza, is the star entertainer at the club, with Les Cagelles, a chorus of indeterminate gender, backing him up. Georges and Albin have raised a twenty-four year old son Jean-Michel (Richard Gatta), the result of Georges’ one-night stand with a woman at the Lido. On the day we meet them Jean-Michel returns home from a holiday to announce he is engaged to be married to Anne Dindon (Brittany Boivin), the daughter of Monsieur Edouard Dindon (John Noble), head of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party, whose stated goal is to rid the Riviera of drag clubs. Anne and her parents (Carol Charniga plays Mme. Marie Dindon) are coming to dinner that very night – Georges can pass for a straight man but what is to be done with the flamboyantly femme Albin?
This little farce, with a raucously silly book by Harvey Fierstein, plays itself out in between memorable songs by Jerry Herman, composer of Hello, Dolly! and Mame among many others. There are no bit parts in La Cage... it is a true ensemble piece with everyone on stage adding to the mayhem and merriment.
But there is more afoot here that just an excellent cast in a funny and tuneful musical, much, much more. Charles, who with his life and business partner Tony Rivera runs C-R Productions at the Cohoes Music Hall, is a city native. This talented couple could have successful careers in regional theatre. They could have found a bigger, more “happening” city in which to form their own company. But Charles came home and he and Rivera started a company whose motto is “Revitalizing Cohoes one show at a time.”
As a native, Charles already had connections and knew how the city and the Capital District worked. He and Rivera have very successfully partnered with the city government and with area businesses, and they have started an exciting youth theatre program, C-R Kids, which integrates whole families into the activities at the Music Hall. “La Cage...” is all about family, and this production, a revival vociferously demanded by patrons, is all about the extended family of C-R Productions.
And despite the fact that La Cage... is about gay men, it has a powerful message about the integrity and rights of every individual to be who and what they are with pride and without shame. Anyone who has ever been picked on, harassed, or discriminated against because of their size, shape, color, religion, or ethnic background, the language they spoke or the gender they were attracted to can relate. And who among us hasn’t had that experience, at least in childhood?
In keeping with the family spirit, several members of the C-R Productions family have come home to appear in La Cage.... Christakos, Charles, Noble, and Charniga are reprising their roles from 2006. High schoolers Augie Abatecola and Boivin, have appeared in Main Stage and C-R Kids productions. Gatta, Shawn R. Morgan and four of the seven Cagelles have also graced the Music Hall stage before.
There are no weak links in this cast. Christakos’ Georges makes an excellent “straight man” (pun intended) for Charles’ over-the-top Albin. It is a pleasure to see him back on the Cohoes stage!
Noble and Charniga play it for laughs and get them. I was glad that Charniga was allowed to look so very pretty in her early scenes, before switching to less traditional attire. I almost didn’t recognize Noble with his hair colored, but I bet the dye job will give him a chance to tackle some different roles, not just the older men.
Newcomer Tim J. Luoma plays the butler, er, maid, Jacob, a role that consists of nothing but goofy gags and dumb jokes performed in the world’s most outrageous costumes. I have seen this role painfully over-played, and I am delighted to report that Luoma does a nice job of being out there without being off-putting.
It is a delight to see what attractive and appealing performers Gatta and Boivin have grown up to be. Boivin, who I saw only three weeks ago as the grown-up Cosette in the C-R Kids' production of Les Miserables, is a real beauty, which is about all the role of Anne requires. It is nice to see her in her first adult Main Stage role although it is a pity she doesn’t get a solo number. Gatta does a fine job with his solo, Anne on My Arm.
I will not name Les Cagelles because it is important to keep their true genders a secret, but they each define themselves as individuals and it is fun to see them revealed as their true selves in Masculinity. Their big dance numbers are just spectacular.
Pamela Keenan is credited as the costume designer, working from and in some cases with, the original designs of Whitney Locher. Some of the costumes were familiar from 2006, but that was all right because they still looked great and worked well. Charles gets the snazziest wardrobe, of course, and I remain jealous. It is not so much that he looks better in a dress than I do, (which, okay, I admit it, he does) its that he’s got better dresses!
Jen Price Fick has designed a new set for this production, and its nice enough, but its still the weakest element in the show. But it stays out of everybody’s way and allows the dancing and lunacy to prevail, which is all that really matters.
The Cohoes Music Hall Orchestra under the direction of Michael McAssey sounds great, as always. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is what American musical theatre is supposed to sound like – a live orchestra and unmiked singers.
La Cage Aux Folles, presented by C-R Productions, runs through February 17 at the Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen Street in Cohoes. Performances are scheduled for Thursdays at 8 p.m.,Friday and Saturday Evenings at 8 p.m., Sunday Matinees at 3 p.m., and one Saturday Matinee at 3 p.m. on the last Saturday of each production. The show runs two hours and fifty minutes with one intermission and is suitable for ages 10 and up. Call the box office at 518-237-5858 for tickets and information.
*The French word folle is related to the English words fool and folly. It is a slang French term for a flamboyant homosexual male, but a more accurate translation of the title would be Cage of Lunatics. Probably the best parallel in English would be Ship of Fools.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2008