Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
How do you fit as big a show as La Cage Aux Folles into as intimate a space as the Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center?
You use every available inch of the stage, and the center staircase aisle of the house, too. You don’t shy away from a single sequin — the glitzier the better — and you use live music with brass, keyboard and percussion.
La Cage Aux Folles translates from the French to “cage of fools” which doesn’t really describe the madcap, often hilarious, gender-ambiguous cast of characters, or the occasionally heart-breaking tenderness of this show.
First produced in 1984, the musical concerns Georges, the MC of a St. Tropez nightclub, La Cage, and his same-sex partner and star of the club’s floor show, Albin, aka “Zaza.” Between them, they’ve raised to adulthood a son, Jean-Michel, the product of a brief encounter between Georges and a woman.
Now 24, Jean-Michel is getting married to Anne Dindon. Nice, except his future father-in-law, is the head of a morals watchdog group. And the young man is desperate to hide the truth of his upbringing from M. Dindon, played by Brian Luby, and his wife, Marie. Laurie Brearly is perfect as Mme. Dindon, a woman who is clearly a lot more fun than her stodgy husband.
Everyone in director James Osborne’s show puts his or her heart and soul into this show, including Talia Saraceno who is assistant director and choreographer, as well as playing a chorus girl, Angelique. While some of the ensemble numbers are not particularly tight, they offer some fun surprises.
A pas de deux between Francesca Decker (Anne) and Tony DeLousia (Jean-Michel) is worth the price of a ticket. It’s beautiful.
The chorus boys and girls take turns shimmying their way between costume changes and wig swaps, thanks to costumers Diane Arbes and Jane Nichols, and Keith Johnson/Friends Family Salon. An observation: If the colorful wigs in the chorus line had appeared in ROYGBIV (rainbow) order, that would have made me even happier (especially since June is LGBT Pride Month)!
The ladies of the chorus line include Katherine (Kathy) Bartlette as Bittelle, Brienne Early as Colette, Courtney Evanek as Babette, Anna Simek as Mercedes and Kylee Thetga as Monique.
Vito Longo is the long-suffering Francis, La Cage’s stage manager. He keeps his other “girls” in line, or does he? You’ll see. They are a campy bunch, and include Matt Gaska as the whip-snapping Hanna, Camden Dyer-DeCator as Chantel and Andrew Clark as Phaedra.
Anna D’Arcy is the musical’s actual stage manager, and she has a lot to keep track of, so kudos to her.
I can’t forget George and Albin’s butler, er maid, Jacob, prettily portrayed by Reidan Pitarresi. Timing is everything, and Pitarresi’s got it.
Carolyn Christy-Boyden and Paul Sanna round out the cast as M. and Mme. Renaud, owners of the Promenade Café and dear friends of Georges and Albin.
Michael Cyr steals the spotlight, as anyone who gets the role of Albin would, but he seemed a little young for me to suspend my disbelief. By the end of the show, however, I couldn’t see anyone else in the role, except maybe Divine.
When Cyr sings Albin’s stirring ballad of self-determination, “I Am What I Am,” he can lift up anyone who is disheartened by other people’s expectations of them. The song did much for society’s evolution in the acceptance of LGBTQ lifestyles, although even the composer, Jerry Herman, might not have even imagined its eventual reach, or continued importance, in the 21st Century.
Cyr and Greg Fusare (Georges) have more than one sweet moment together, especially when they reminisce about how they met in “Song on the Sand” in Act II. Their voices blend beautifully.
Ti-Ahwaga’s Executive Director, Sonny Dewitt, designed the purposely (and appropriately) garish set and also performs with Music Director Colin Delap’s six-person orchestra as second keyboardist. He has become a very important player in the overall success of Ti-Ahwaga since being named executive director in July of last year.
There are many notable performances, so I hope you’ll go see it. In the meantime, you can listen to an interview with Osborne and Saraceno by WSKG’s Bill Snyder here: http://wskg.org/arts/ti-ahwaga-players-present-jerry-hermans-la-cage-aux-folles/?c=arts
IF YOU GO: La Cage Aux Folles, with book by Harvey Fierstein and lyrics and music by Jerry Herman, runs weekends through June 18 at the Ti-Ahwaga Community Performing Arts Center, 42 Delphine St., Owego.
Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. For tickets, visit the website at http://tiahwaga.com/ or call 607-687-2130.