Shoe fetish: Birds of a feather flock together in Pacific Rep's version of 'La Cage aux Folles.'
The Caged Bird Sings
Pac Rep season opens with 'La Cage aux Folles'
By Joyce D. Mann
La Cage aux Folles has had many incarnations. Jean Poiret's original French play debuted in 1973, followed by the French-Italian movie in 1978. The American movie The Birdcage appeared in 1996. La Cage aux Folles the musical, with music by Jerry Herman and book by Harvey Fierstein, opened on Broadway in 1983, and garnered five Tony Awards and a host of nominations. This musical is currently running at Pacific Rep in Carmel.
The concept is simple. Partners Georges (John Racca) and Albin (Sid Cato) own and run a racy nightclub in St. Tropez, France. Albin is the diva, ZaZa, ably supported by the gender-blurred song and dance troupe, the Cagelles. Jacob (James Pete Russell), who is not sure whether he is the maid or the butler, completes the menage. Georges's son Jean-Michael (Michael Maisonneuve) puts the cat among the pigeons when he announces that he is engaged to Anne (Tabatha Skanes), daughter of the ultraconservative politician Edouard Dindon (Michael D. Jacobs). Dindon means turkey in French. All hell breaks loose when Dindon and his wife, Marie (Maryann Schaupp-Rousseau), arrive at the home of Georges and Albin. The situation is resolved to almost everyone's satisfaction with the intervention of resourceful restaurant owner Jacqueline (Lydia Lyons).
Cato goes over the top in a Fiersteinesque performance as drag queen Albin. As outrageous as he gets, Cato is still endearing and engaging. These qualities are essential to the success of this show. Racca's Georges is steady and controlled, providing a nice contrast with the volatile Albin. One can believe that these two men have had a loving relationship for 20 years. They harmonize well in "Song on the Sand," and milk the comedy in their less than harmonious spats.
Russell provides some broad comedic moments as Jacob, switching between stereotypical French maid and formal butler. Maisonneuve gets to be the straight man (in both senses of the word). He has a good voice that does more than justice to his solos "With Anne on My Arm" and "Look Over There." Skanes is a properly demure ingenue and has a couple of good dance routines.
Rounding out the featured cast, Jacobs is at home in the role of the starchy father, but he could have done more with the part. Schaupp-Rousseau's interpretation of Mme Dindon has just the right touch of ambiguity. We sense her repression and feel she may break loose at any time. Lyons is the quintessential French hostess and she comes into her own in Act 2.
Herman's music is varied and tuneful and is well interpreted by a talented cast. Behind the comedy and slapstick, Fierstein's lyrics often have a deeper significance. Numbers such as "We Are What We Are" and "Masculinity" give us pause to reflect.
Terry J. Barto directed and choreographed this show. The overall performance on opening night was patchy. Things should go more smoothly and pick up momentum during the run. The structure of the show is at fault in some respects. For example, Act 1 comes to a rousing climax with the number "La Cage aux Folles," featuring Albin and the Cagelles. The next scene, Beauty and the Beast, while well done, seems redundant and it doesn't advance the plot. The final scene in Act 1, between Albin and Georges, while essential to the plot, is an anticlimactic end to the first act. Act 2 has more drive.
The choreography is outstanding. The dancers handle strenuous routines with ease, and move across the stage in bright flashes of glitz and color. Costuming is integral to this show and Tandy Messenger's designs are incredible. The feathered bird costumes for the Cagelles are particularly stunning.
While adequate, the set is static and visually dull. Set changes are less than slick. Scenic designer Jean-François Revon misses a great opportunity to do something wildly imaginative. In addition, the sound system was unreliable on opening night, with occasional microphone loss and sound balance problems.
Don Dally directs a great-sounding nine-piece band that is onstage throughout the evening. The band brings that distinctive "French" feeling, conjures up a variety of moods from bawdy nightclub scenes to the plaintiff sounds of street musicians and romantic lyrical pieces.
La Cage aux Folles runs through April 22 at the Golden Bough Theatre, Monte Verde between Eighth and Ninth streets in Carmel. For ticket information, and for information about the coming season, call 831.622.0100, or go online at www.PacRep.org.
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