By BRUCE HICKMAN
The fabulous female impersonators known as the Cagelles introduce us to the magical world of illusion as they invite us to enjoy the magical journey at La Cage aux Folles, a popular show bar. And this magic translates beautifully to Cocoa Village Playhouse’s production of “La Cage aux Folles” as well.
The enchanting production shows Cocoa Village Playhouse at its best, allowing the cast and those working behind the scenes a chance to show off their goods.
Director Anastacia Hawkins-Smith keeps the proceedings brisk and energy filled. During the curtain speech she reminds the audience they will be transported back to 1973. But aside from a few period street clothes and outdated expressions, the story could very well be taking place in 2014, given the political climate of late.
The talented James Spiva as Georges serves as our tour guide, if you will. He’s a bridge between illusion and his character’s reality, after wigs and dresses are removed.
And what a sweet, blissful reality it is as we see his gleeful home life with his longtime companion Albin (played by Ray Asiala) who works nights as a popular female impersonator Zaza at La Cage.
Enter Georges’ 20-something son Jean-Michel (played by tall, dark and handsome Joe Horton) who announces he’s getting married.
If there is a bad guy to be had in this story it’s really Jean-Michel who insists Georges and and Albin pass for straight folks while his fiancee Anne (Victoria Zombo) and her conservative parents (played by Alecia Deveraux and Gene Hayes who both add much comedic spice to the proceedings) are in town.
As for the diva of the night? Ray Asiala is a perfect casting choice. The production marks Asiala’s return to the stage after a 24-year absence. And to that I say audiences hopefully won’t have to wait that long again for another performance. Back in the day, Asiala was a gifted singer who had a natural command of the stage. This show proves his gifts have aged beautifully.Watching him, you feel he was born to play for this role.
Like his Zaza, his Albin is over the top as you might expect, yet never out of control nor obnoxious.
And just as his performance turns many comedic shades, his beautiful baritone voice fills the room – and the theater – offering several chills along the way.
A musical highlight is his performance of “The Best of Times” which he delivers with Albin’s assistant/sister-in- crime Jacquiline, played by the charismatic Kari Ryan Furr and several other cast members in fine voice.
As for Spiva, anyone who knows him from his rock band performances knows he is a musician at heart. And that shows in his lovely tenor voice throughout. But it’s the chemistry he creates with his co-star Asiala that offers the show its warmth. His performance makes it easy to overlook that he’s a few decades younger than the character he portrays. (I may have even detected a few inside jokes regarding the age differences.)
The musical numbers are spectacular and consistent throughout, offering the right mix between vocals and orchestra (directed by Daniel Klintworth) as we expect from CVP. Bravos to sound engineer and sound designer Gavin Little.
As is the orchestra, another unseen star Daniel Hill. His costume designs provide an ongoing fashion show with enough costume changes that one can only guess what sort of reality show goes on backstage. I’d tune in to that one for sure.
Lighting designer Ian Cook and associate production designer Jeremy Phelps have once again provided a spectacle of a set design, this time offering plenty of wow factors (the red draperies and La Cage logo for instance) that offer the actors a perfect playing field.
And speaking of fun costume changes, particularly fun to watch is Ben Jackson, as Albin’s butler, who longs to perform at La Cage — and to be called Albin’s maid. Is that so wrong?
Can’t forget that the show’s book is by Harvey Fierstein who helped introduce the world to “La Cage” in the early ’80s. Music and lyrics are by Jerry Herman. It’s based on the play by Jean Poiret and was adapted for the film “The Bird Cage” in the mid ’90s.
A shout out to Cagelles Jonathon Adler, Christopher Beavers, Benjamin Cox, Freddy Fernandez, Justin Radlein, and Frederick Toland. Though often working as part of an ensemble, each performer offers a personality that is as unique as their hair, make-up and dresses. Pamela Larson is the show’s choreographer. Wigs and makeup are by Dustin Coleman
Also turning comedic turns in smaller roles are Brenda Kreiger, Don Bricker and Dann Hogerty.
With only one week left to see it, score your tickets now. Ultimately, the show offers a wonderful message about positive family values and despite a few bawdy jokes, the show is family friendly.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “La Cage aux Folles” runs through Sunday at Cocoa Village Playhouse, 300 Brevard Ave., Cocoa. general, student/senior, children under 12 years. Call 321-636-5050 or visit www.cocoavillageplayhouse.com.