By Jean Lowerison
“La Cage Aux Folles” has a venerable history. Based on the 1973 French play by Jean Poiret, it hit Broadway (in English) in 1984, where it won six of the nine Tonys it was nominated for. Two succeeding productions each won a Tony for best revival of a musical. It also broke barriers as the first hit Broadway musical to be centered on a gay relationship. It has since played with great success around the world and even been made into a movie starring Robin Williams.
Cygnet Theatre has also had success with the show and has brought it back. It opened a few days ago and has already been extended through Nov. 7.
La Cage Aux Folles is a drag club in the tony French town of St. Tropez, run by longtime lovers Georges (Lance Arthur Smith) and Albin (David McBean). Georges handles the business end of the club. Albin is the star of the show, playing Zaza, with outrageous costumes, tons of mascara and attitude. But, as one of the main songs puts it, “We Are What We Are,” and this show argues for acceptance from a society that was not willing to grant it.
The plot centers around young Jean-Michel (Jake Bradford), Georges’ son by a previous short liaison with a woman. Jean-Michel has been brought up by Georges and Albin. One day, Jean-Michel comes to tell his dads that he’s found a girl named Anne (Megan McCarty) he wants to marry and that her parents want to meet them.
The problem? Anne’s dad is a rightwing conservative nut who will never understand Georges and Albin or approve of La Cage. Jean-Michel begs Georges to pretend normality for one night – and to get Albin out of the house for the meeting.
Of course, Albin won’t stand for this and even Georges’ request that he come but look “more like John Wayne and less like Brigitte Bardot” is insulting. However, it does set up an amusing interfamily meeting replete with hurt feelings, hilarity and eventual reconciliation.
Director Sean Murray knows how to make this show work. He also knows how to find the right cast and some really good songs by Jerry Herman don’t hurt.
McBean’s Albin is a gas and his swishy Zaza is absolutely hilarious. Kudos also to Jennifer Brawn Gittings for his and all the other funny costumes.
Smith is excellent as Georges, just trying to keep things humming. He has a couple of lovely songs, too. My favorites are “Song on the Sand,” which he sings to placate Albin, and “Look Over There,” in which he suggests to Jean-Michel that he has another “dad” on his side.
Megan McCarthy is charming as Anne, Jean-Michel’s fiancé, and the six Cagelles are a kick. And they can kick.
To me, this show seems outdated, probably because I’ve seen it too many times. I’d like to say we’ve outgrown our fear of this particular “other,” but that’s demonstrably not true.
If you’ve never seen it, or haven’t seen it for a while, get down to Cygnet.
“La Cage Aux Folles” plays through November 7, 2021 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St. in Old Town.
For tickets: (619) 337-1525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at email@example.com.