Totally outrageous, but wonderfully warm and sentimental, "La Cage aux Folles," playing at Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson through April 20, is pure entertainment from start to finish.
This delightfully funny, well acted and choreographed musical is not to be missed. With jaw-dropping gorgeous costumes, heavy on feathers, sequins and pearls, it is a spectacular show. Director Karla Hartley and her team of professionals, music director Bill Cusick, choreographer Jill Godfrey and production designer Tom Hansen deserve major kudos for this stellar production.
This is pure French farce. Based on the French play by Jean Poiret, "La Cage" was a Tony award winner on Broadway, and was later adapted to film with "The Birdcage," starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Set on the French Riviera, it is the story of two aging gays, Georges and Albin, who have been together 20 years and have raised a son. Albin (Steven Flaa) stars as ZaZa, the outrageous drag queen at the nightclub La Cage aux Folles on the French Riveria, owned by his lover, Georges (Brian Minyard). When their son Jean-Michel (Kaleb Lankford), the result of Georges one night stand 24 years ago with a show girl, arrives with the announcement that he is engaged to be married to Ann Dindon (Molly Anne Ross) the daughter of the homophobic political leader, Edouard Dindon (Pete Clapsis), we have a family crisis of hysterical proportions, especially since the Dindons insists on meeting their future in-laws.
But "La Cage" is so much more than just a glimpse into the life of a drag queen. It is a tender, poignant love story that tugs on the heart strings. And it is very funny. Through Albin/ZaZa we learn that this transvestite has emotional depth no different than anyone else. Flaa is the consummate professional, and is positively superb as Albin/ZaZa. "A Little More Mascara," gives us insight into his character, and his clarion voice displays anger and hurt as he sings an emotional "I Am What I Am," after Georges tells him he can't meet Jean-Michel's finance because his flamboyant ways will be an embarrassment to Jean-Michel. The synergy between Flaa and Minyard, as Georges is perfect. These seasoned actors make it look easy.
Minyard is a dignified Georges, whose powerful, velvety-smooth voice adds to his character. In musicals, the ballad works only when a deep emotional experience moves the character and audience to different levels, and when Minyard sings "Song on the Sand," to his partner, Albin, one begins to see the true emotional attachment they feel for one another.
Lankford as the young, exuberant son, Jean-Michel, shows contagious energy. His delivery of the love song, "With Anne On My Arm," and the dance sequence with Anne (Molly Anne Ross) are executed beautifully.
This show has beautiful and thought-provoking lyrics. Any mother will identify with "Look Over There," when Georges reminds his son, Jean-Michel of everything this "man who raises you like a mother" (Albin) gave up over the years to help raise him. Or the delightfully funny, "Masculinity," sung by Georges, Albin and the townspeople in a cleverly choreographed scene designed to teach Albin how to "walk like a man."
Patrick Marshall, Jr. as Jacob, the transvestite maid, steals every scene and takes cross dressing to new levels of hilarity. His comedic timing is impeccable. Other standouts are Clapsis, doing double duty as the café owner, and then as the appropriately pompous moralistic crusader politician, who ultimately gets his due - and with hilarious results. Ellie Pattison as Mme. Renaud has a lovely voice and unique physical comedy. Millicent Hunnicutt as Jacqueline, the extroverted restaurant owner puts in a fine performance. Christoff Marse as Francis, the stage manager, is a hoot, as he shows up with multiple injuries from his dates with Bo Price as Hannah, the whip cracking transvestite.
Choreographer Godfrey's dance moves are nicely naughty, as ZaZa leads the Cagelles through their dance moves. The Cagelles, four women and five men (but who can tell?) provide humor and sass for this unorthodox environment, and much of the fun is trying to sort out the men from the women. The can-can in the title tune "We are What We are," will keep you wondering how much these talented dancers can do - and then they do more - to the final parade of performers in the finale that looks like something out of the Ziegfeld Follies.
"La Cage aux Folles" plays weekends through April 20, with performances that include: Thursday Matinee, Saturday Matinee and Evening, and Sunday brunch performances. Dinner and show is $49.50 plus tax and gratuities. Call for group rates. Show Palace Dinner Theatre is located at 16128 U.S. 19 in Hudson. For information, call (727) 863-7949 or go online to www.showpalace.net.