review: “La Cage aux Folles”—lively, hilarious, heartfelt—at Cinnabar Theater through November 10, 2013
There’s a tender story of family at the heart of the Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein multi Tony-award-winning musical comedy La Cage aux Folles and Cinnabar Theater’s revival, which opened last weekend, plays it to perfection. That makes two hits in a row for Cinnabar’s 41st season and, having recently fulfilled their subscription goal by a whopping 168 percent, the future’s looking bright for the small theatre company in Petaluma’s old school house.
This is the West Coast premiere of the revised score of La Cage aux Folles which was developed for the 2008 award-winning London revival. In 2010, this version moved on to accolades on Broadway and the West End. The original songs, with their emotionally grabbing lyrics, are all still there and the story, with some slight tweaks, is still intact. Under the careful stage direction and choreography of Sheri Lee Miller and musical direction of Mary Chun, Cinnabar’s production literally soars.
For La Cage, Cinnabar’s stage has been transformed into the Saint-Tropez night club La Cage aux Folles replete with magical dancing Cagelles (chorus line) in glorious drag— J. Anthony Favalora, Jean-Paul Jones, Quinn Monroe, Cavatina Osingski, and Zack Turner. By way of opening remarks, Cinnabar’s new Executive Director, Terence Keane, challenges the audience to guess who among the Cagelles is male and who is female. In most cases, it’s a tough call as the make-up and acting are that good. The production starts off artfully and doesn’t let up with the creativity or energetic rush—the Cagelles first appear as mysterious curvaceous silhouettes behind transparent screens which they then burst out of as they dance and sing “We Are What We Are,” with Georges joining in.
The story, which some audiences found shocking 33 years ago, is now a classic— Nightclub owner Georges (Stephen Walsh) and transvestite performer Albin/Zaza (Michael Van Why) have been married for more than 20 years. Georges is also Albin’s manager. Together they have raised Jean-Michel (Kyle Stoner), Georges’ son, the unexpected result of a one night stand with a gorgeous show girl named Sybil. Jacob, the couple’s live-in transvestite butler, who dresses as a maid, played by the hysterically funny James Pelican, has also helped raise the boy. When 24-year-old Jean-Michel arrives at their doorstep to announce he has fallen in love with Anne (Audrey Tatum), Georges can hardly believe that his boy is marrying a woman. He has even more trouble accepting that Anne is the daughter of the bigoted Minister of Moral Standards, Edouard Dindon (Stephen Dietz) (who would eradicate homosexuals entirely if possible) and that the intended in-laws—Edouard and his wife Marie (Madeleine Ashe)—are coming to their house for dinner. But it is Jean-Michel’s request that Albin not be present when the prospective in-laws visit and that their blaringly gay apartment be re-decorated that puts the household in a tizzy.
Anchoring the show is Michael Van Why’s pitch perfect performance as Albin / ZaZa, a role he reprises and seems born to. In Act I, he comes off as a grand, self-involved diva but very soon it’s evident he’s quite maternal, compassionate and a more than a tad fragile navigating the pitfalls of middle age. Half the fun in this production is watching Albin don various outfits and moods. He actually dresses less flamboyantly than in some productions of La Cage but with a twist of his finger and sideways glance, he really works it. That face, with those huge doe eyes, is hard to resist and Van Why, a classically trained singer, can really carry a tune. From his opening solo “A Little More Mascara” to his numerous duets with Walsh, he is a joy to behold.
Stephen Walsh is also amazing as Georges. His on stage chemistry with Van Why is palpable and his tenderly rendered “Song in the Sand” and “Look Over There” are aching love songs we can all relate to. The performance serves as a kind of opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come in the past 30 years in our acceptance of gay and alternative lifestyles, so much so that many of the songs which may have once been provocative are now anthems of pride.
The couple is bolstered by a strong supportive cast, all of whom seem to be having the time of their life. One of the funniest moments happens when the supposedly uber-conservative Marie Dindon, played delightfully by petite Madeleine Ashe, discovers that the plates in the redecorated apartment (where they are supposed to be having a “normal” dinner in a “normal” home) are embossed in gold with homoerotic love scenes. Out pops the tigress in her and she’s not getting back into the cage without a good romp. Another standout is the vivacious Valentina Osinski as the celebrated restaurateur, Jacqueline. And what a pleasure to see Cinnabar’s Artistic Director, Elly Lichenstein, who has opera in her veins, take to the stage as the delightful Madame Renaud and sing, beaming with pride at the magic that surrounds her.
Cinnabar’s Music Director Mary Chun is usually conducting Cinnabar’s small orchestra, but for La Cage, she plays the piano vibrantly and queues from the bench. The clear stand-out, though, is trumpet player Daniel Gianola-Norris whose numerous solos, some muted and some not, produced an evocative sound that left me wanting more. Gianola-Norris is a trumpet teacher at Santa Rosa Junior College and owns and operates “Music to My Ears,” a music education center located in Cotati.
David Clay’s inspiring costumes, which include an array of sensual form-fitting evening gowns and di rigueur glam accessories, make this modest budget production seem like a million bucks.
Cinnabar Theatre, with its warm feel and exceptional acting, is the best kept secret in the Bay Area. The charming theatre seats just 99 people and there’s nothing more wonderful than attending a spectacular performance that unfolds just a few feet before your eyes. Added to that are special touches, like the delicious homemade cookies and brownies served at intermission, which are outrageously priced at just $1, and the good vibe community feeling that permeates the place. It’s almost impossible not to have a great time.
Run time: Two hours and twenty minutes.
Book by Harvey Fierstein / Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman / Based on the play by Jean Poiret.
Details: La Cage aux Folles has been extended through November 10, 2013. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM. Tickets: $35 for adults and $25 for ages 21 and under. Purchase tickets online at www.cinnabartheater.org, or call 707.763-8920 from Monday through Friday between 10 AM and 3 PM. Advance ticket purchase is essential as this show is selling out rapidly. Sat Oct 26 and Sun 27 are sold out. Seating is general admission and the theatre opens about 30 minutes prior to each performance.
Cinnabar Theater is located 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, at the intersection with Skillman Lane, Petaluma, CA 94952.
Cinnabar’s Production Team: Music Director—Mary Chun, Stage Director and Choreographer—Sheri Lee Miller, Scenic Designer—David Lear, Costumes—Clay David, Lighting Designer—Wayne Hovey
The Cast: Albin / ZaZa—Michael Van Why, Georges—Stephen Walsh; Jacob— James Pelican; Jean-Michel—Kyle Stoner; Anne—Audrey Tatum, Jacqueline—Valentina Osinski, Monsieur Dindon—Stephen Dietz; Mademoiselle Dindon—Madeleine Ashe; Monsieur Renaud—Clark Miller; Mademoiselle Renaud—Elly Lichenstein
Cagelles (Chorus Line)— J. Anthony Favalor—Sassy Sparkles, Jean-Paul Jones—Chantal, Quinn Monroe —Mercedes, Cavatina Osingski—Hannah from Hamburg), and Zack Turner—Anita Spotlight