La Cage aux Folles Review – Pomerado News

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‘La Cage aux Folles’ successfully pulls on heart strings
Pomerado News – Elizabeth Marie Himchak

“La Cage aux Folles” is a powerful, deeply emotional, well-acted, thought-provoking musical playing at the Spreckels Theatre in downtown San Diego through Oct. 11. San Diego Musical Theatre’s latest production stars Broadway veterans David Engel and Robert J. Townsend. The show won six Tony Awards for its original 1983 production, including “Best Musical,” and several more Tonys during its 2004 and 2010 Broadway revivals.

Engel, who was in La Cage’s original Broadway cast, plays Albin, a drag queen that goes by the name Zaza at French nightclub La Cage aux Folles, well-known for its drag queens’ performances. Townsend, who just left Broadway’s “Mamma Mia” cast, is his 20-plus years partner, Georges, the nightclub’s master of ceremonies and owner. Together, they raised Georges’ biological son, Jean-Michel (Bren Thor Johnson). Since his biological mother, Sybil, rarely saw her son, Albin took on the “mother” role for Jean-Michel ever since he was very young.

Now 24, Jean-Michel wants to introduce his fiancée, Anne (Ashley Ruth Jones), and her very conservative parents, to his family. But her father, Edouard Dindon (David Mitchum Brown), is the leader of France’s Tradition, Family and Morality Party and wants to close down all drag queen nightclubs, including La Cage aux Folles. If he finds out his future sonin- law was raised by homosexual men, the marriage will be called off.

Since even Anne does not know the truth about Jean-Michel’s parents — she is led to believe Georges and Sybil are married and Georges is a retired diplomat — Jean-Michel asks his father to go along with the lie. This means not only removing their home’s flamboyant, sexually-themed décor, but moving Sybil in and having Albin move out during the Dindons’ overnight visit.

It is extremely difficult for Georges to tell Albin what Jean-Michel requests, since he knows their son’s rejection of Albin, his feminine ways, their relationship and nightclub careers will devastate Albin. Engel’s performance of “I am who I am” is heart wrenching when Albin earns the truth at the end of Act I.

Seeing how heartbroken Albin is, Georges decides to teach Albin how to be masculine and introduce him to the Dindons as Jean-Michel’s “Uncle Al.” Jean-Michel is unhappy, but has no choice. When Sybil once again fails to show up, Albin — ever the supportive parent — dresses as a conservative woman so Jean-Michel can have a “mother” present. Of course, the truth accidentally comes out and Jean-Michel and Anne must decide who they will to stand by following the revelation.

The cast does a terrific job in portraying their respective characters. Engel fully embraces Albin’s feminine and drama queen ways, bringing himself to tears when rejected by his son. Townsend performs equally well when having to choose between the happiness of his son and his partner, and sings moving renditions of “Song on the Sand” and “Look Over There.” Johnson’s singing is also lovely, in songs such as “With Anne on my Arm” and a reprise of “Look Over There.” All three have terrific voices.

Kudos are also due to the Les Cagelles — Scott Frausto, Alex Sanchez, Luke H. Jacobs, Donnie Gersonde, Ala Tiatia and Taylor Shubert — for their performances. Their dancing (in high heels) was exceptional. Also deserving mention is James Vasquez, who plays the butler, Jacob, in very comedic fashion.

Due to thematic and set design elements, the show is best for mature audiences.

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