From left: Sarah Biggs, AJ Makielski, Steven j. Heron, Jacob Govatos and Daniel McDonald in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at Titusville Playhouse. Photo by Niko Stamos.
By JOAN TADDIE
BREVARD CULTURE Theater Critic
Glitter and feathers and lights may play tricks with your eyes as the Master of Ceremonies introduces the ladies of “La Cage aux Folles,” in the current production now playing at the Titusville Playhouse. And if, as the emcee begs us, you “open your eyes,” you will see a high-spirited and touching musical that will warm your heart.
As the lively overture comes to a close, Georges, the emcee and owner of the St. Tropez drag nightclub, “La Cage aux Folles,” welcomes the audience and introduces them to Les Cagelles, six amazingly talented chorus “girls.” The first line they sing is, “We are what we are and what we are is an illusion.”
With music and lyrics by the legendary Jerry Herman (“Hello, Dolly!”) and book by Harvey Fierstein (“Torch Song Trilogy”), “La Cage aux Folles” won six 1983 Tony Awards. Based on Jean Poiret’s 1973 French play, the musical is set both in the nightclub and in the home of Georges (Daniel McDonald) and his husband, Albin (Steven J. Heron). Georges owns the nightclub while its star is Albin, a well known female impersonator. Conflict arises when Georges’ son, Jean-Michel (Joey Leavitt), announces he is engaged to Anne Dindon (Dani Montalvo), whose father (Michael Funaro) is leader of an ultra conservative political party which has its eye set on closing down local drag clubs.Adding to the stunning news is the even more alarming announcement that the Dindons are coming that evening for dinner and to meet Georges and Jean-Michel’s mother, Sybil. Jean-Michel demands that Georges must tell the lovable Albin that he will not be introduced and must stay away from their apartment until the Dindons return home. Sybil has had very little contact with Jean-Michel. Instead, Albin became like a surrogate mother and provided devoted love as he and George raised Jean-Michel together. Albin is crushed.
Throughout the drama and heartbreak of this dilemma, the show must go on in the drag club; and we are drawn in again and again as the Cagelles are announced and perform their show-stopping musical numbers led splendidly by music director Spencer Crosswell.Costumed in leotards, corsets and bustiers all designed by Matthew Wright for the original Broadway production, the six Cagelles sing and dance effortlessly with strength and grace and in heels! And boy can they high-kick their shapely legs! All I can say is wow to their jump splits, especially the powerful Phaedra’s (Tyrique Moore). Luke Atkinson wears many hats in this show. He not only appears as the whip snapping Cagelle, Hanna, but he is responsible for all the terrific choreography and creative stage lighting and scenery for this production. Another Cagelle, Chantal (Taylor Casey) shines vocally as she sings like a bird in a true high soprano range. Her last note is magnificent!
The cast of “La Cage” performs seamlessly. Their characters connect with each other and the audience feels comfortable and thoroughly entertained. Although we don’t meet the Dindons until the middle of the second act, Funaro and Lillie Eliza Thomas, who plays Mme. Dindon, are delightful. Their physical and facial reactions to meeting Jean-Michel’s family and their double-takes as they try to make sense of their daughter’s future life with this new family keep the audience laughing.The performance of “Cocktail Counterpoint” by both families is an audience favorite. The choreography and the precision necessary to perform this piece is priceless. Leavitt never drops one of the plates thrown to him! Jacqueline (Danielle Lang) owns a chic restaurant where it is hard to get a table. She is a dear friend of Georges and Albin. Lang glides across the stage, always graceful and statuesque. Her natural warmth is reflected in her beautiful smile. Her vocals are strong as is her dialogue.
Leavitt and Montalvo make a sweet couple. Leavitt’s performance of “With Anne on My Arm” is lovely. When the couple dance, their eyes connect and we see young love. The lift is beautiful and romantic. Jordyn Linkous plays Jacob, Georges and Albin’s sassy, sarcastic “maid.” He only has to appear on stage (always in a new outrageous outfit that he actually looks great in) and the audience is his!
Steven J. Heron and Daniel McDonald as Albin and Georges couldn’t be more different, but they make a beautiful pair. When Albin takes off his makeup and Georges hangs up his glitzy tuxedo jacket, Heron and McDonald make theater magic with a chemistry on stage that makes the audience care for these characters as a couple who struggle, and laugh, and doubt, and encourage…but most of all love. They are a family, their “own special creation,” and that makes them strong.
McDonald as Georges emphasizes to Jean-Michel how important family is when he sings “Look Over There.” It is a beautiful moment in the show, not only because of the power of the words, but also because of the pain and love Georges feels for both Albin and Jean-Michel that is reflected in his eyes as he looks from one to the other.Watching Heron on stage is a joy. He is a born showman. What fun to see Heron transform as he sings “A Little More Mascara” into a gorgeous starlet complete with wig, dress, heels and a lit runway that connects him with the audience. At the end the song she is in a spotlight surrounded by her adoring fans. Another audience favorite is the song “Masculinity,” in which Heron gets instruction from McDonald, AJ Makielski, Sarah Biggs and Jacob Govatos on how to walk and act like a man. Heron’s physicality makes for great comedy.
But playing Albin gives Heron an opportunity to show his dramatic skills as well as his comedic prowess. At the end of Act I, Heron makes a solitary walk down the lit runway dressed in a demure gown into the center of the house. He is devastated by Jean-Michel’s rejection and expresses his pain and anger with a powerful and emotional rendition of “I Am What I Am.” A brilliant moment of theater.
Smartly directed by Niko Stamos, “La Cage aux Folles” moves through multiple scene changes effortlessly. Luke Atkison’s set design is functional and is enhanced by his lighting design which can change a seedy space into something beautiful under the lights. While in Jacqueline’s restaurant, we would have liked to have seen the long, bare, brown table with something on it to reflect the glamour that Jacqueline represents. The scenes using the beautiful bird cage are visually spectacular and intriguing.
The lesson is simple: Looking deeply into each other’s eyes, sing a simple love song in harmony and share a kiss. The best of times!
SIDE O’ GRITS: “La Cage Aux Folles” runs through Feb. 3 at Titusville Playhouse, 301 Julia St., Titusville, FL. Tickets $21 to $29. Call 321-268-1125 or visit TitusvillePlayhouse.com.