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La Cage Aux Folles • Brooklyn Paper

La Cage Aux Folles

Out and about: Harvey Fierstein's musical, "La Cage Aux Folles," is on stage at the Heights Players theater through May 20. Fierstein is pictured here with a piece of art he loaned to the Brooklyn Museum of Art's "Brooklyn Collects" exhibit.
The Brooklyn Papers / Greg Mango

For their final full-length play of the
season, the Heights Players have pulled out all the stops. "La
Cage Aux Folles" is the flashiest, glitzyist, most extravagant
of Broadway extravaganzas, and recreating that atmosphere is
no mean feat. Fortunately, the Heights Players have risen to
the challenge.



The basic plot of "La Cage Aux Folles," through all
its variations over the past 27 years, is by now well known to
most theater and film audiences: two gay men who own the eponymous
transvestite nightclub strive to appear "normal" to
make a favorable impression on the parents of the fiancee of
one of the men’s sons, conceived during a night of indiscretion.



The story was first told by Jean Poiret as a French stage farce.
It opened at the Theatre Royale in 1973 with Poiret and Michel
Serrault and ran for seven years. In 1978, "La Cage Aux
Folles" was turned into a feature film, directed by Eduard
Molinaro and starring Serrault and Ugo Tognazzi. The film received
both critical and popular acclaim and spawned several sequels
and an English version produced in 1996 called "The Bird
Cage," starring Nathan Lane and Robin Williams.



Meanwhile, "La Cage Aux Folles" was turned into a musical
with a book by Brooklyn boy Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics
by Jerry Herman. It opened on Broadway on Aug. 21, 1983, and
ran for 1,716 performances, winning six Tony Awards, including
best musical.



For many reasons, "La Cage Aux Folles" seems an obvious
choice for revival at a community theater. It’s a big-name show.
It has wonderful production numbers. And it’s a bit risque but
not enough to make it really a risk with all but the most conservative
audiences.



On the other hand, "La Cage Aux Folles" poses many
staging difficulties that made this reviewer enter the theater
with great trepidation. Finding really sexy ladies is hard enough
for local theater companies. Finding men to portray sexy ladies
seemed all but impossible.



Let me say here, I was pleasantly surprised. Costume designer
Karen Kobus covered her actors with gowns and feathered boas
that cleverly disguised less than perfect figures, and choreographer
Eileen Delgado gave them steps and stances that were simple but
effective.



Most important, director Thomas Tyler made the wise decision
to fill the ranks of transvestite dancers and singers with more
than the two traditional women. This both improved the production
numbers and left the audience with the tantalizing task of figuring
out who was who, or which was which.



Of course, Tyler also had some very significant talent at his
disposal. Kerry Wolf ("Call Me Madame") is urbane and
just a tad effeminate as Georges ("I’m the homosexual").
Steve O’Brien ("Breaking the Code") is totally in his
element in musical theater. His gestures, his tone and his walk
all create a very memorable Albin ("I’m the transvestite").



But "La Cage Aux Folles" works because Wolf and O’Brien
make Georges and Albin something more than ridiculous. Their
antics are sidesplitting and heartbreaking at the same time.
Their love is deep and enduring and their desire to live their
lives on their own terms is well expressed in both dialogue and
song ("We Are What We Are," "With You on My Arm").
Both actors have lyrical voices strong enough to carry the melody
without overwhelming.



Steve Velardi and Gina Wolff as Georges’ son Jean-Michel and
Anne Dindon, his fiancee, are convincing as the "straight"
complement to Albin and Georges.



"La Cage Aux Folles" has a huge supporting cast, as
befits an old-fashioned Broadway musical. Of particular note
are newcomer Atu Darko who plays Jacob, the sexy maid; and James
Martinelli ("A Funny Thing Happened") who shines as
Mercedes the Magnificent, and Bill Wood ("Romeo and Juliet")
as the sadistic Hannah from Hamburg, both members of the notorious
"Les Cagelles."



"La Cage Aux Folles" was the first large-budget Broadway
musical to treat the subject of homosexuality. But unlike Terrence
McNally’s "Kiss of the Spider Woman," it breaks no
new thematic grounds. It combines the love stories of a young
couple and an older couple, a good deal of vaudeville-type routines,
lavish production numbers and songs that include love ballads
("Song on the Sand") and chorus lines numbers ("The
Best of Times"). And it’s utterly delightful.



La Cage Aux Folles" plays through May 20, Fridays and
Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm at The Heights Players’ theater
(26 Willow Place). Tickets are $15, seniors and students $12.
For reservations, call (718) 237-2752.


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