Camelot Theatre’s La Cage Aux Folles: FABULOUS! Camelot’s Best Ever!
– by Lee Greene
Camelot Theatre opened its production of the musical, La Cage Aux Folles, on Friday, June 24, which will run through July 31. Let me cut to the quick: This is the best show I’ve seen at Camelot and that covers a lot of shows, including some great ones, going back quite a number of years, all the way to when they were still performing in the old converted barn that used to house the company. This production of La Cage Aux Folles at Camelot Theatre features fabulous performances by a great cast, uniformly terrific music – vocals and accompaniment, with great sets, gorgeous costumes, fantastic make-up, and superior theater tech/stagecraft. This show IS sure to have a sold out run, it’s THAT good. By now, there have doubtless been a full complement of reviews published in print, preceding this one (they all appear in the next morning’s paper, affording those other hard working journalists less time to research, prepare and write than what I have the luxury of), and I’m confident that they will ALL celebrate this production as a glorious hit (though I studiously avoid reading anyone else’s review before mine is published). Consequently, there may already have been a run on tickets and a near sell out by the time you’re reading this. So put this down, go online now to http://boxoffice.printtixusa.com/camelottheatre/eventcalendar, order your tickets, and then come back to read the rest of this review to learn the details about this fabulous show.
La Cage Aux Folles, if you are one of the few who are unfamiliar with it, was originally created as a French play in 1973 by Jean Poiret. The storyline centers around a gay couple, Georges, who manages a nightclub, La Cage Aux Folles (“The Cage of Queens”), in Saint-Tropez featuring drag entertainers, and Albin, his effeminate partner, who is the star entertainer at the club, female impersonator, “Zaza”. The pair live in an apartment adjacent to the club. Georges has a 24 year old son, Jean-Michel, fathered during a one night heterosexual liaison, but raised by the gay pair. Jean-Michel has just been engaged to the daughter of an ultra-conservative homophobic politician, and brings the fiancé and her parents home to meet his “parents”, requesting that his father pretend to be straight, their risqué appointed apartment be redecorated in a more modest conservative style, and his “mother” Albin, absent himself temporarily to avoid problems with the in-laws-to-be. Instead Albin appears at the in-law introduction in his best female impersonation as Georges’ wife and Jean-Michel’s mother, until he flips his wig and is found out, creating the havoc that Jean-Michel wished to avoid. There’s more to the story, leading to its happy ending, but that’s enough for here. You should be able to see the potential for much hilarity, from the drag performances of the club entertainers, the unconventional “parental” couple, and their interactions with the conservative in-laws. If you don’t already know what happens, you’ll learn in due time, when you go see the show at Camelot. (You did already get your tickets, didn’t you?)
The play was adapted into a very popular Franco-Italian film comedy in 1978 (nominated for 3 Oscars), which is how most people became familiar with the show. The film was remade in an American version in 1986, titled The Birdcage, by director Mike Nichols, and starring Robin Williams in the Georges role and Nathan Lane as female impersonator, Albin. More importantly for the current show, the story was adapted to a Broadway musical in 1983 with a book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. That musical is the show being run at Camelot.
Now, turning to the Camelot production: the performances, by a large cast, are just extraordinary across the board. Kudos must begin with David King-Gabriel, who gives a career highlight performance as female impersonator, Albin (“Zaza” on the La Cage stage). King-Gabriel enters the show in drag and pretty much remains that way throughout, except for a few moments when his performance calls on him to embody an effeminate gay vainly struggling to try to be manly without much success.
His performance is wonderful, hilarious, captivating and bravura. He absolutely succeeds in selling the persona of Albin, (“Zaza”), the effeminate, gay impersonator, drag queen, and has the audience laughing and applauding in scene after scene. His acting is spot on, gestures, movements, expressions that all fit the character. He is called upon for most of the show to speak (AND sing) in a feminine voice and pulls it off really well. All of this is facilitated and enhanced by fantastic makeup from the mascara, eyeliner and rouge right down to the polished nails, and great costumes – gowns, robes, wigs, headware, earrings, necklaces, boas, heels, etc. If for no other reason, one must get to this show to see this performance.
But that’s far from the only terrific performance in this show. Alex Boyles plays Georges to King-Gabriel’s Albin, and is equally fabulous. Boyles gives us the not-so-straight straight man to King-Gabriel’s drag queen and does so with great acting, wonderful singing, and most importantly, totally believable, heart-string tugging exceptional rapport with King-Gabriel (and ALL the other members of the cast – his son, drag queens, nightclub staff, restaurateurs, the conservative in-laws . . . ).
In any other show, two outstanding leads would be enough to produce a hit, but in this production of La Cage Aux Folles, it’s just the beginning. Albin has an ever-present butler, Jacob, who fancies himself a maid and cross-dresses to accomplish that. Jacob is present in the vast majority of scenes, and played by Rigo Jimenez, in his 10th and I must say best Camelot role. Jimenez is absolutely hilarious as the cross-dressing Jacob, in fantastic gowns and make-up. Even when required to be more a butler than a maid, for the conservative in-laws’ visit, he appears in an over-the-top 17th century French courtier costume. Jacob gets some of the best and funniest lines in the show, well delivered by Mr. Jimenez, and plenty of funny shtick as well – surely not all of which was scripted, with the result that Jimenez nearly succeeds in stealing most of the scenes Jacob appears in. So okay, you need to get to this show to see at least three performances: David King Gabriel’s, Alex Boyle’s AND Rigo Jimenez’s.
But we’re still nowhere close to finished discussing outstanding performances. Young (but experienced, at Camelot previously in Oklahoma, in Chicago at Randall Theatre and more) Zaq Wentworth plays the much put-upon “normal” Jean-Michel trying to cope with his outlandish gay parents and the equally trying conservative in-laws-to-be. It is a fine performance, notable in his success in holding his own on stage opposite the incredible performances of King-Gabriel and Boyles as his gay parents. Wentworth also does a very nice job singing and dancing, especially on the song, With Anne on My Arm. Which brings us to the next fabulous performance: Jean-Michel goes to great lengths to explain to his “queer” parents how he has fallen in love with a woman, and become entranced with the fantastic Anne. Then Anne enters, in the person of Grace Peets, the very definition of lovely. Ms. Peets, a Camelot Conservatory alumna, can act (previously on good display in Camelot’s Amadeus), sing like an angel (heard in Camelot’s Oklahoma) and dance (Sweet Charity). It’s a wonder that the whole world (of straight men) hasn’t been entranced by Anne, as portrayed by Ms. Peets. I just wish someone would find Grace Peets a suitable leading role in something where all her talents could be used to good effect; it seems like the Camelot people keep under-utilizing her in minor roles. (Come on Roy!)
Four paragraphs and I’m not even half done with kudos for outstanding performances. (So much for “try to keep the reviews short please!” LOL!) Next we need to mention the Cagelles, the club’s roster of “female impersonators” in this production, half of them males impersonating females, the other half females impersonating male impersonators. ALL of the Cagelles, male and female give fine performances; there’s not one bad one in the bunch. Let’s touch on some of the notables. The best of the men in drag is Reese Rush performing as “Hanna from Hungary”. He appears most of the time with a dark wig and attractive makeup, attired in black leather corsets and black leather slacks, wielding a formidable whip. Hanna is THE most seductive of ALL the Cagelles, male and female, and one wouldn’t suspect Hanna’s not really a woman, if you met her on the street, and didn’t know better. Also notable among the men in drag is Andrew Pena as Phaedra, providing another very well done female impersonation – especially Phaedra’s flirtatious wagging of the tongue. The rest of the men in impersonator roles are all great too – tall, thin Mercedes (Joey Larimer) and Chantal (Eoghan McDowell) create unforgettable and favorable impressions as beguiling Cagelles. The other half of the Cagelles were actresses impersonating male impersonators. The best of the women Cagelles was Kendra Taylor, in a dual role also as Jacqueline the restaurateur and not even credited as a Cagelle. But there she was on stage with the Cagelles , in a pink outfit cooing provocatively and leaving an indelible impression. Taylor was terrific as Jacqueline too – she sang wonderfully including a duet with Zaza, and had some important scenes for advancing the plot, which she nailed!
I have to applaud the rest of the women in Cagelle roles as well: long-legged and lovely Shannon Carter as Derma, dark haired alluring Olivia Harrison as Paulette, and not least, the multitalented Haley Forsyth ever present as Angelique, including an irresistible turn in an eye-popping Egyptian costume in one scene, and also dancing front and center in the 2nd Act’s Masculinity number.
Not done yet. Jack Seybold appears as the put-upon conservative politician and father of Anne, and gives a very amusing performance, rising to considerable hilarity when he appears in a role in the La Cage club’s Finale. Kathleen King as his wife and Anne’s mother, Madame Dindon, is also very amusing. Among other bits, she really sells it and draws big laughs singing as a “not-so-good” amateur when pressed to join in song with star impersonator Zaza at a restaurant.
There were others in this cast, and nary a poor performance from any of them. I must apologize for not mentioning them all, but I’m already going to be pounded for the length of this review and need to stop somewhere. As should be obvious from previous comments, the costumes in this show were amazing – the best ever at Camelot – kudos go to costume designer Michael Leon and assistant costume designer Addie Hall. So was the makeup (Cherelle Guyton, hair/wig and makeup designer) – successfully turning a troop of men into alluring female impersonators. The sets were very effective, at depicting the locales for the scenes – the apartment, club, restaurants, beach, etc. As always, the sound was well done, all the speaking cast were wirelessly mic’d and the levels were always just right. As usual Camelot’s tech crew did a fantastic job; particularly in using projections to enhance the sets – paintings on the wall of the apartment, boats at the beach, etc. The music was exceptionally good throughout the show – everything was well sung, but very much facilitated and supported by a terrific band, especially percussion by Steve Sutfin – my notes include several points where the percussion really moved the show along and held things together, such as during the song, A Little More Mascara. Bruce Dresser had some nice trumpet solos too. Again, all the band contributions were superlative and I apologize for not mentioning them all, but need to at least try to keep it short.
Two more things I feel compelled to mention. One, some people (of conservative persuasion akin to the in-laws-to-be in this show) may be wary of this show because it deals with a controversial subject (gays, gay parents, drag clubs with drag queens, etc.) I took the precaution of bringing a good church-going Christian friend with me to the performance, and inquired afterwards if there was anything objectionable during this show. The response, “No, there really wasn’t anything objectionable during this show” was not a surprise to me, as there were no overt displays of homosexuality in this show. There was no “touching” or simulated sexuality and the only kissing was by Jean-Michel kissing fiancé Anne (creating envy among a few red-blooded American males I suspect) and restaurant owner Jacqueline doing an innocent buss on both cheeks in the stylized French greeting. Perhaps it’s not a good show to bring very young children to because of the subject matter. But it’s certainly safe for adults and savvy adolescents.
Two, this is the 2nd show under the leadership of new Camelot artistic director, Roy Rains. It is amazing that despite the challenges of the company’s transition to new leadership and the demands of having to focus most of his attention on planning next year’s season, he could, so early in his tenure, lead the company to what I confidently assert is the best show I’ve ever seen by this theatre company. Mr. Rains deserves acknowledgement for this accomplishment – great work Roy and please keep it up. In the midst of this company’s current challenges, it largely fell to stage director and choreographer Rebecca Campbell and assistant director/assistant choreographer Renee Hewitt to do “the bulk of the work” in putting this hit show together. In the words of Roy Rains, “Becca deserves all the praise that you can heap on her.” My hat is off to Mss. Campbell and Hewitt for producing such a successful hit! BTW – I asked Roy Rains for a comment about the show before the performance began, and his comment was that the show is “FABULOUS”. He was right and that’s where the description in this review’s title came from.
Performances of La Cage Aux Folles continue through July 31 at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Avenue, Talent, Thursday thru Saturday 8:00 pm, Sunday Matinees 2:00 pm. For tickets: order online at http://bit.ly/1EO71aR, or call the box office at 541-535-5250, or in person at 101 Talent Avenue, Talent, Oregon.
All photos, except caricature, by Camelot Theatre photographer Steve Sutfin.