From the moment the curtain lifts, the Grand Theatre’s production of ‘La Cage aux Folles’ is a veritable feast for the eyes, showcasing a colorful stage presentation along with drag queens performing Parisian can-can dances.
‘La Cage aux Folles’ is a humorous and witty musical about a gay couple that runs the Saint-Tropez nightclub of the same name with drag queens as the main attraction. The drag queen theme quickly captures attention but it’s the family drama and the message of acceptance that is the heart of the musical.
Georges (played by David Hansen) invites the audience to “open their eyes” as drag queens parade out on the stage singing “We Are What We Are”, one of several stirring songs that contributed to ‘La Cage’ winning six Tony awards during its initial Broadway run.
While the sight of drag queens dancing on stage creates a visual distraction, it’s the interaction between Georges and his partner Albin played by Kenneth Wayne Parrish, who is also the nightclubs star attraction Zaza, that carries the musical. Gradually, the initial distraction of dancing drag queens takes a backseat to the rising drama that faces the gay couple.
The heart and soul of the musical is the interplay between Georges and Albin as they deal with the angst of having their son, Jean-Michel, ask them to pretend to be something they are not to impress the conservative parents of his fiancee. It also allows the gay couple to be cast in a situation of trying not to embarrass their child, which the audience can relate with.
The performance of Parrish is worth the price of admission. With a delicate balance of dramatic flair and humor, combined with perfectly timed histrionics, Parrish demands attention every time he is on stage.
Hansen plays an excellent “straight” man to Parrish’s follies with a powerful and steady performance.
Another highlight is the butler who thinks he’s a maid played by David Guy Holmes who steals almost every scene with his physical and sometimes acerbic humor.
The drag queens generate the majority of the laughter with their energetic and sometimes out of sync dancing. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the musical is when the drag queens perform a can-can dance prompting nervous laughs and spots of awkward silence from the audience as the drag queens kick their legs and flip their skirts up in the air.
‘La Cage’ is full of catchy songs that have surprisingly deep and poignant lyrics. Songs like “I Am What I Am” and the “Best of Times” are inspiring and mesh well with the story. However, despite the strong and meaningful lyrics of the songs, the ‘La Cage’ cast often has a difficult time matching the power of the words with their voices.
Where the voices sometimes fail, the Grand Theatre’s stage presentation more than picks up the slack. The stage scenery is colorful and detailed and the transition between showing the front stage and the backstage of Saint-Tropez is almost seamless. The production crew does a good job of having the audience feel as though they are actually at the Saint-Tropez.
Despite a controversial and sometimes manipulative theme of drag queens and alternative lifestyles, ‘La Cage’ does a good job of entertaining with song and dance while delivering a message of the importance of family.
If anything it’s worth attending for the can-can dancing and the invitation of “opening your eyes” to determine which of the drag queens are actually women.