La Cage aux Folles Review – Gay San Diego

 In Reviews

The ‘cage’ that surpasses – A dedicated company delivers and delights
Posted: October 2nd, 2015 | By Charlene Baldridge

San Diego Musical Theatre continues to outdo itself with each show it mounts at the historic Downtown Spreckels Theatre.

Readers must see the current offering through Oct. 11. It’s “La Cage aux Folles,” Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s 1983 Tony Award-winning stage musical based on Jean Poiret’s 1973 French play of the same name.

One may have seen big-name stars in the juicy plum roles hither and yon (most recently George Hamilton in the 2011 tour), but no one will ever see and hear anyone that surpasses Robert J. Townsend (most recently of Broadway’s “Mama Mia”) as Georges, owner of a transvestite St. Tropez nightclub and David Engel (the original company of “La Cage”) as his star, Albin, whose stage name is Zaza.

The feeling of intimacy and camaraderie Townsend and Engel create is entirely convincing and fills the theatregoer with warmth and the assurance that no matter who each may be, it’s okay that “I Am What I Am.”

Lovingly, over the course of more than 20 years, with an assist from a madcap, longtime “maid” named Jacob (San Diego director/actor/filmmaker James Vasquez), the lovers have raised Georges’ son, Jean-Michel (Bren Thor Johnson), who returns home to visit and announces he is to be wed to Anne (Ashley Ruth Jones), daughter of a very narrow minded, censorious politician.

“What did we do wrong?” screams Albin.

Townsend, who’s been seen in numerous San Diego Musical Theatre productions, including their 2014 “Next to Normal,” and was recently a fine Sweeney Todd at Moonlight Stage Productions, possesses a virile baritone, a facile body and matinee idol good looks. He is a most persuasive actor.

Engel, who was in the original Broadway companies of “Forever Plaid” and “La Cage aux

Bren Thor Johnson (top), David Engel, and Robert J. Townsend in “La Cage” (Photo by Ken Jacques) Folles,” also possesses a fine baritone voice and impeccable acting skills. The two of them together are capable of breaking one’s heart.

Between Georges, Jacob and Jean-Michel, the wounded Albin is persuaded to absent himself from the pre-nuptial parents’ weekend so that Jean-Michel’s birth mother can be there to present a more “normal” family group. Of course she fails to show, so a gentler version of Zaza is her stand-in as a heterosexual woman.

Anne’s parents are played by Debra Wanger, who rockets off some fabulous, operatic high notes, and David Mitchum Brown, the perfect stuffed shirt. Hilarity ensues when Jacob has a kitchen accident, dinner is burned, and all repair to the fabled Chez Jacqueline for dinner. Christine Hewitt portrays the famed restaurateur.

Along the road, we are royally entertained by Georges’ can-can girls, Les Cagelles, Phaedra, Bitelle, Chantal, Hanna, Mercedes and Angelique, portrayed by a bevvy of lovelies, Scott Frausto, Alex Sanchez, Luke H. Jacobs, Donnie Gersonde, Ala Tiatia, and Taylor Shubert.

In addition to the title song, the score includes the lovely ballads “With You on My Arm,” “The Best of Times,” and “Look Over There.” The choreographer is Karl Warren, and the director is Larry Raben. Their work is tops.

Bret Young and David Medina are scenic designers, Janet Pitcher, the costume designer, Michael Von Hoffman, lighting designer, and Kevin Anthenill, sound designer. Most important, Musical Director Don Le Master leads a wonderful eight-person onstage band.

Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenebaldridge.com or reach her at charb81@gmail.com.

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