La Cage aux Folles Sizzles at Barrington Stage

Forty Plus Drag Show Gets Fresh Mascara and Falsies

By: - Jun 17, 2024

La Cage aux Folles
Book by Harvey Fierstein, based on the play by Jean Poiret.
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Directed by Mike Donahue.
Choreography, Paul McGill
Scenic Design, Alexander Woodward; Costumes, Rodrigo Munoz and Benjamin Weigel; Lighting, Philip S. Rosenberg; Sound, Ken Travis; Hair and wigs, Bobbie Zlotnik; Makeup, Kyle Krueger, Music direction, Angela Steiner:Cast: Tom Story (Georges), Aaron Graham (Angelique), Jules Geiss (Clo Clo), Jonte Jaurel Culpepper (Bitelle),  Drew Minard (Giselle), Kevin Murakami (Mercedes), Gabe Friedman (Chantal),Kyle White (Hanna), Ralphe Gilliam (Phaedra), Drae Campbell (Francis), Phillip Taratula (Jacob), Alex Michaels (Albin), Noah Wolfe (Jean-Michel), Sallie Shaw (Annie), Tanesha Gary (Jacqueline), Don Noble (Edouard Dindon), Michele Ragusa (Mme. Dindon)
Boyd-Quinson Stage
Barrington Stage Company
June 11-July 6, 2024

For over-the-top camp hilarity and flat out fun nothing tops the outrageous musical, La Cage aux Folles, which is getting a swing for the rafters production at Barrington Stage Company through July 6. This is likely to be a boffo summer smash with a too-brief run.

This chestnut has been delighting audiences since 1983. That’s pretty old, with nothing new to say drama-wise, but who cares. This ain’t Shakespeare; just an over-the-top drag show spiced up with fresh paint, wigs and falsies. Over three acts we see how boys will be girls.

Barrington Stage Company has gone all out in this production. There is an elaborate, glittery set. Impressive tuckery informs the individuals in the chorus who are all endowed (pun intended) with unique and fascinating personalities. They range from ballerina to a whip snapping, mustached, sado- masochist. Half the fun of this show are the outrageous costumes designed by Rodrigo Munoz and Benjamin Weigel and wigs created by Bobbie Zlotnik.

The trope is that La Cage aux Folles is the Rivera family business presided over by Georges, the MC (Tom Story) and his drag queen mate and star attraction Albin (Alex Michaels). It seems on a drunken night, which he vaguely recalls, Georges did the unthinkable. Good grief! The one-night-stand resulted in Jean-Michel (Noah Wolfe). The mother abandoned her child and disappeared leaving him to be raised by the gay couple.

Albin has been a true mother to him but we hear of the constant bullying the straight kid endured from classmates. Now he is about to do the improbable; marry a woman. His gay parents are flummoxed as he makes an outrageous demand.

The future in-laws of the chaste Anne (Sally Shaw) must meet his parents and approve of the family before forking over a sizeable dowry. The impossible ask is to invite Jean-Michel’s long gone, birth mother to the wedding and for Albin to take a powder. Well, just temporarily. Plan B is for him to impersonate the groom’s “uncle.”

All of this plays out with implausible hysterics. Part of the deception is an extreme makeover of the living quarters of Georges and Albin. I was fascinated to regard such gay icons as paintings and graphics by Tom of Finland, Paul Cadmus, a portrait of a 1920s lesbian by Otto Dix, and leather man posters. They are carted off and replaced by a large painting of Christ on the Cross.

While the plot progresses the heart and soul of the extravaganza is the ever robust drag show. We have seen several iterations before Za Za, the featured queen, makes an outrageous entrance. From there it’s false tits to the wind.

In essence Cage is an absurdist plot wrapped around a drag show. As MC,  Georges is more bland than scintillating. His provocative asides to the audience mostly fall flat. There are mimed “call me” gestures unheeded by individuals in the audience. We were, however, quite taken back by the passionate and poignant delivery of his ballads “Song on the Sand” and “Look Over There.”

Albin gets to perform a range of wonderful material: “A Little More Mascara,” a duet with Georges “With You on My Arm,” an ensemble “La Cage aux Folles,” the solo “I Am What I Am,” and the ensemble “The Best of Times.” On every level Michaels is the star of the show.

The excellent music was delivered by a terrific eight-piece pit orchestra led by Angela Steiner. At the beginning of the evening she surprisingly popped up and delivered an accordion solo.

Director Jerry Herman kept up a fast pace particularly during the extended and oft repeated drag shows. Things slowed down in the second act when plot points intruded on the high jinks.

An attempt to receive the in-laws at home tanks. The party moves to Jacqueline’s (Tanesha Gary) campy restaurant. Mme. Dindon (Michele Ragusa) is impressed as it is difficult to get a reservation. Albin has decided to impersonate Jean-Michel’s mother. She is invited by Jacqueline to sing. They collaborate on a barn burner, “The Best of Times.” Members of the rehearsal dinner join in. Mme. Dindon surprises by being a belter.

Just when everything is seemingly going well Albin intuitively self –destructs. It all comes crashing down but with a bit of nip and tuck the kids make it to the altar. With a touch of blackmail  they even acquired the dowry.

There’s one last romp of “Finale” and everyone lives happily ever after; none more so than the audience vacating the theatre.