Theatre Review: ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ at Out Front Theatre Company

Photos by Diane Haymes

Out Front Theatre Company, Atlanta’s only LGBTQIA+ theatre company, is presenting a dazzling production of the Broadway musical “La Cage Aux Folles” (the cage of crazies), directed by Out Front founder/artistic director Paul Conroy, running through Nov. 9.

“La Cage” has had a remarkable, unstoppable journey; starting life as a French play by Jean Poiret in 1973; moving a to brilliantly funny Franco-Italian film (1978); arriving on Broadway in 1983 as a gigantic musical with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman (“Hello, Dolly!”, “Mame”) and book by Harvey Fierstein.

The show was a smash hit at the Palace Theatre, running for 1,761 performances, winning six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. I remember I was thrilled to get a good seat in the mezzanine, because it was a hot ticket – almost a gay “Hamilton.”

Many people who have not seen the musical have seen the 1996 American film “The Birdcage,” starring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams; this is not a musical version, but the plot is virtually the same.

In Saint-Tropez, Georges (Tony Hayes) manages a successful drag nightclub (La Cage Aux Folles), which features terrific dancing (the chorus line is called Les Cagelles) and stars his life partner Albin (Clint Clark-Duke) as Zaza. The two have lived happily together for many years in an apartment above the club with their “maid” Jacob (Joe Arnotti).

Albin is a good-hearted diva who faces life with “A Little More Mascara,” and suggests you do the same (that is, let your hair down and live).

They have raised Georges’ son, Jean-Michel (Aaron Schilling), now 24, who returns one day to announce to Georges that he is going to marry a girl named Anne (Melanie Sheahan). Georges isn’t thrilled at first, but Jean-Michel assures his dad that he really loves Anne.

Unfortunately, her father, Monsieur Dindon (Robert Wayne), is a politician who is head of the very conservative “Tradition, Family and Morality Party.” His wife, Mme. Dindon (Marcie Millard), is quite meek and mostly kowtows to her husband.

An even bigger problem is that Jean-Michel wants to bring Anne and her parents to meet his father (whom he’s told Anne is a retired diplomat) and mother—his birth mother, Sybil, who hasn’t seen Jean-Michel in years. This means—you guessed it—Albin must make himself scarce. Storm clouds are gathering. When Georges delicately informs Albin of this plan, the flamboyant performer doesn’t explode; he simply takes the stage and changes a chorus number to a solo, declaring that he is proud of who he is and won’t change for anyone. He sings “I Am What I Am,” which has been called the gay national anthem.

By the way, Jean-Michel has also asked his father to “de-gay” their apartment; consequently, Georges and Jacob have transformed the place into a near-monastery. The nervous Jacob bungles the dinner; Mr. Arnotti is a brilliantly funny comic performer, with a gift for physical comedy that cannot be taught.

“La Cage Aux Folles” is a huge show with a stage full of talented performers (such as Vallea E. Woodbury, who plays Jacqueline, the owner of a posh restaurant). The ones I’ve mentioned are all terrific, especially choreographer Jordan Keyon Moncrief’s dancers, such as Luke Badura, JT Butler, D. J. Grooms, Brian Jordan, Jason-Jamal Ligon, Peyton McDaniel, Willis Hao, and Tyler Sarkis. Nick Silvestri is the music director.

Mr. Clark-Duke and Mr. Hayes anchor the show beautifully as Albin and Georges; both sing very well indeed. Mr. Wayne and Ms. Millard are talented actor/singers who only give fine performances.

At three hours (including an intermission), the show runs a tad long; at times the pace could be picked up. But as I said, it’s a gigantic show (with some fabulous costumes by Jay Reynolds) with singing, dancing, acting, clowning, and pathos. It didn’t win all those Tonys for nothing.

At heart “La Cage Aux Folles” is an old-fashioned musical with old-fashioned family values—with a lot of sequins and sparkles.

I commend Director Conroy for tackling this landmark musical play. Out Front has become a force to be reckoned with in Atlanta in a very short time. Oh—I hear they’re close to selling out—get tickets now.

For tickets and information, visit outfronttheatre.com.

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