Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Flint Community Players bit off a chunk more than they could chew Thursday with the opening of their current production of La Cage Aux Folles. Challenging for professional companies, an amateur group needs to think long and hard before deciding to jump into the fray with this one. After all, it calls for a troupe of male dancers who can dress and perform as females, and this dance chorus was obviously all women except for one.
The story is probably familiar to most since this Tony Award winning show has been around since the early 80s. Adapted from Jean Poiret’s play of the same name with book by Harvey Fierstein and music/lyrics by Jerry Herman, La Cage depicts the daily dilemmas of a middle-aged homosexual couple, Georges (Dan Ryan) and Albin (Chazz Irwin). Georges is the owner/emcee of a French Riviera nightclub featuring female impersonators as showgirls, and Albin is the headlining star.
Ryan was dapper most of the time and handled the vocals nicely although his songs’ messages didn’t come through strongly. Irwin was earnest in his attempt to bring Albin/Zaza to life and does an acceptable job with it. Still, these two never were able to make us believe that the relationship between them was real.
Director Dan Gerics is also the drummer in the visible stage-left band, and from that vantage point it could be difficult to judge the overall impact the show may have on the audience.
Thursday night the first act was uneven but with some high points such as Ryan and Irwin’s nice rendition of “With You On My Arm”. Still there were rough patches anytime the chorus gals were on as their numbers lacked spontaneity and were often reduced to poses.
The story behind this show is one of love in all its forms and fashions. This aspect emerges further when Georges and Albin’s son Jean-Michele arrives home with news of his impending wedding. Brett Smith is okay in this role and more believable when his fiancé Anne (Marie Burchi) arrives.
But, conflict arises when Jean-Michel asks his “mother”, Albin/Zaza, to stay away when Ann’s parents come to meet Georges. It seems that Ann’s father is the government official in charge of morality who has vowed to close down the very gay clubs and cross-dressing shows in which Georges and Albin thrive.
A stab at having Albin show up as an uncle prompts a cute number – “Masculinity”, and a sweet sentiment is sung as Georges points out what love means with “Look Over There”.
This second act picked up some steam with the arrival of Anne’s parents, Edouard Dindon (Todd Clemons) and Mme. Dindon (Sherry Handa) and their visit to the café run by the flamboyant Jacqueline (Jennifer Harris). All of this leads to the end as the press invades when M. Dindon is discovered to be consorting with “immoral” types. The escape from Jacqueline’s is clever and fun to watch.
Technically, the set was well done and workable. Lighting was okay; it might be worth subtle dimming on the brightly lit early chorus numbers. Costumes are interesting. Some are sparkling and bright while others are odd and seem too tight. We were not impressed by Irwin’s wigs which seemed to smash his face by riding too low on his forehead.
The instrumental quartet accompaniment was good. Nearly onstage they still managed to be just the right volume to not overwhelm the performers. Musical director Desmond Sheppard was on keyboard with Tyler Gilbert on bass, Rachel Green on trumpet and Gerics on drums.
To be fair, thirty plus years ago the relationships that are at the heart of this story were not widely accepted or understood. This play was a unique look into the reality of love and nurture that can happen in such an alternative lifestyle. Perhaps with today’s broad acceptance in place it doesn’t hold the impact that it once did.
Still, there is a lot left undone here. Whether it was a shortage of rehearsal time or just the overwhelming challenge that goes beyond simple song and dance in this show, the overall effect was less than stunning. We can hope that successive performances will see improvements as so often happens after opening night is out of the way.
La Cage Aux Folles continues through May 19 at FCP’s Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy. Flint, MI 48507. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-235-6963 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com