The grungy former movie house in Tamarac that Broward Stage Door Theatre called home for more than decades is just a memory, now that the move to the sparkling, two-year-old Lauderhill Performing Arts Center (LPAC) is complete.
Last weekend, Stage Door debuted its first production, “La Cage aux Folles,” the glitzy and tuneful 1983 Tony winner from composer Jerry Herman and writer Harvey Fierstein.
The plot of the musical, an adaptation of a 1973 French play and 1978 film, remains surprisingly fresh and relevant, unlike its heroine, an aging drag diva, and her partner, the owner of a French Riviera cabaret. There’s no need to recap the story to any card-carrying theater queen, but let’s just say the antagonist, a self-aggrandizing “family values” politician, seeks to “Make France Great Again.”
Executive producer Derelle Bunn and her team spared little expense on this debut production, hiring a cast of 21 and pit orchestra of six. (Stage Door more often than not relied on pre-recorded accompaniment tracks in the past.)
But, no matter how many thousands of rhinestones, feathers and sequins sparkle throughout, the real star of the show is the LPAC itself. That six-piece orchestra performs from an actual pit. The very existence of wings and a fly allowed Michael McClain to design a stylish, grandiose set that would have been unthinkable in that cramped movie theater. And then there are the lights and modern sound system that doesn’t snap, crackle and pop incessantly through the show like a bowl of cereal.
As for the performance, well, the cast could probably have benefitted from another week of rehearsal. Larry Buzzeo, a seasoned and talented local actor, plods around the stage in his heels, hardly convincing anyone that his Zaza has been performing in drag for decades. Jamie Michael Parnell (Georges) sports a stunning voice, but is clearly too young for the role and exhibits little chemistry with Buzzeo. Australian Connor Delves as their “son” Jean-Michelle is also a talented singer, but was painfully stiff throughout the opening weekend matinee.
Then there are the train wrecks that are the Cagelles, performed by four men and two women wearing hideous wigs and even worse make-up. The whole idea is supposed to be that the illusion is so complete, the audience cannot discern the difference: “Look under our frocks: girdles and jocks.” Not in this case. Hopefully, they will master Danny Durr’s herky jerky choreography before the end of the month-long run.
There are some bright moments, however. Alexandra Van Hasselt, Jean-Michel’s fiancé Anne, has the voice of a nightingale and danced effortlessly in “With Anne on my Arm.” Buzzeo offered an honest and moving moment in “I Am What I Am” that will not be forgotten soon. Kat Gold is a sassy and “saucy” Jacqueline, the restaurateur who orchestrates the madcap conclusion to the family’s predicament. Kudos also go to Paul Reekie and his band.
“La Cage” is a tough show to pull off for any number of reasons, not the least being its familiarity. Fortunately, Stage Door’s audience of largely condo and retirement community audiences enjoyed the production, despite the obvious shortcomings. If only LPAC could have taken a bow, too.
Broward Stage Door Theatre presents “La Cage aux Folles” through Sept. 23 at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center, 3800 N.W. 11th Place (just west of Swap Shop Flea Market) in Lauderhill. Tickets are $48 at StageDoorFL.org.