It’s been thirty-five years since La Cage aux Folles took Broadway by storm. What began in 1973 as a French stage farce followed by a series of films, the Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman musical was considered daring for its time with its portrayal of a happily domesticated male couple thrown for a loop by a request from their son. With marriage equality the law of the land and RuPaul’s Drag Race a crossover hit, it seems less daring today but its message of self-acceptance still packs a punch.
Anthony Martinez plays Geirges, the proprietor of La Cage aux Folles, a French Riviera nightclub that features drag entertainment. The headliner is “Zaza”, otherwise known as Albin, Georges’s partner of twenty years as played by Michael Conte. Together they have raised their a son who’s come home to announce his engagement to a girl whose politician father happens to be the leader of the right-wing “Tradition, Family, and Morality” Party. He wants his fiancé’s father and mother to have dinner with his father and mother – that is, his biological mother. Albin is not to be included. It’s going to be quite some dinner party.
Herman’s Tony Award-winning score runs from the romantic (his “Song on the Sand”) to the comedic (the funny “Masculinity”) to the joyous (the popular “The Best of Times”) and hits its apex with “I Am What I Am”, a defiant ode to individuality. Musical conductor Ginger Beavers and a six-piece band handle the jaunty Herman score well.
There are two terrific lead performances in this Russell Kaltschmidt-directed production, both delivered by Michael Conte. As bombastic as he is as diva-deluxe Zaza, he’s even better as Albin. Conte brings real emotional depth to his character as he deals with his son’s rejection. It’s a depth that’s lacking from Martinez’s rather bland Georges.
Nice comedic support is provided by Joseph Favalora as their butler/maid Jacob and Michael Fontaine as the stuffed-shirt politician. His twelve-syllable delivery of a five-syllable word had me laughing out loud. Lorenzo Alviso also does well as the turncoat son who soon sees the error of his ways.
The design budget must have gone almost entirely to the costumes as there’s almost no set to speak of, but Zaza’s and Les Cagelles’ couture almost makes up for it.
Social progress may have dimmed some of the ‘novelty’ from La Cage, but it still has plenty of heart.
‘La Cage aux Folles’ runs Friday through Sunday through May 20 at the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30pm, there are Saturday and Sunday matiness at 2pm. There’s also a Thursday, May 3rd performance at 7:30pm.
For specific show dates and times, go to 6thstreetplayhouse.com