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Gay couples and transvestites may no longer make a society that is legalizing gay marriage bat an eyelash, but in 1983, when it first hit Broadway, "La Cage aux Folles" was a bit shocking.
Yet even though the subject matter is no longer pushing the envelope, the theme of the play is still fresh and relevant. The Tony Award-winning musical that went on to become the hit 1996 movie "The Birdcage" starring Nathan Lane and the late great Robin Williams poses such universal questions as, "How does one accept oneself and others who are so-called 'different?'" "What are we willing to sacrifice in the name of love?"
For the most part, under the keen direction of Lawrence Thelen and sprightly musical direction by Michael Morris, the Ivoryton Playhouse has met the challenge of reviving "La Cage" with style and heart. And to fit 20 cast members on such a small stage - even the eight dancing "Cagelles" - is no easy feat, undertaken by choreographer Todd L. Underwood.
"La Cage aux Folles," with book by Harvey Fierstein and wonderful music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, centers on an aging gay couple. Georges (James Van Treuren) manages a drag nightclub in the south of France, and his partner, Albin (David Edwards), is Zaza, the featured performer who is worried about getting older and losing his/her looks.
Georges's son, Jean-Michel (Zach Trimmer), to whom Albin has been more of a mother than his biological mother, tells George that he is going to be marrying Anne (Allyson Webb), the girl of his dreams. The hitch is that Anne's ultra right-wing politician father, Edouard Dindon (Frank Calamaro), and wife, Marie Dindon (Samantha Lane Talmadge), are coming to meet Jean-Michel's parents, and to avoid being embarrassed and rejected by his future in-laws, Jean Michel has devised a scheme to keep Albin away and has asked his biological mother to come in his stead.
As usual, Jean-Michel's mother flakes out at the last minute, phoning to say she's not coming. Albin takes the call and, to everyone's surprise, saves the day by dressing in drag as "the mother" in a conservative buttoned-up suit, winning the Dindons over - that is, until Albin's wig falls off and the charade is revealed.
The characters learn important lessons about honesty and that pretending to be someone other than who you are never works out.
The show's strengths lie in the casting of Van Treuren as Georges and Edwards as Albin. Both give stellar performances and fit their roles to a tee. Both sing their solo numbers with great feeling, including "Song on The Sand" by Georges, reprised in Act II by both men, and "I Am What I Am" by Albin after Georges breaks it to him that he doesn't want him at the meeting of the parents.
Trimmer as Jean-Michel does a very nice rendition of "With Anne on My Arm." Calamaro is at home in the part of the blustering, uptight Edouard Dindon, and Talmadge shows an unexpected funny, feisty side as the housewife under her husband's thumb, when she breaks out in a powerful solo during the joyful "The Best of Times." MarTina Vidmar spices up the plot as Jacqueline, the restaurant owner, in her small but spirited role.
Weaker aspects of the production include the "La Cage aux Folles" ballet dance number featuring Albin and the Cagelles near the end of Act I. It's pleasing to the eye but a little long and sluggish. Phil Young as Jacob, the maid/butler, has loads of comic energy, but his performance is a bit much. Although his character is meant to be broad (pun intended), he goes too far over the top in contrast to the more restrained Georges, and even Albin. In contrast, Allyson Webb's portrayal of Anne could use more enthusiasm.
Cully Long has done a fine job with the scenic design. The cabaret-style nightclub with shimmering metallic curtains and a live band set in back of the stage is transformed with sliding panels into Georges's and Albin's chic postmodern living room.
Costume designer Njaye Olds and wig designer Elizabeth Cipollina have done wonders transforming The Cagelles into sexy, svelte women.