I grew up in a small rural town in Missouri. It was a big deal nearly 40 years ago when we got cable television (we went from four stations to 12!) and even bigger when we got our first premium station. I’ll never forget the first time I stumbled upon the 1978 French-Italian movie “La Cage aux Folles” on The Movie Channel. What a puzzling story, none of the characters seemed to realize there was a man dressed and acting like a woman. Of course, this was years before I understood sexual identity or—gasp!—drag queens.
I’ve seen Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s hit musical adaptation at least five times, the last being the Menier Chocolate Factory 2010 Tony-winning revival that toured South Florida a couple of years ago. Since then, marriage equality has swept across more than 30 states and public opinion on LGBT rights has changed dramatically. I wondered as I entered The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton if “La Cage” would still be relevant or relegated to history. (Herman’s “Mame,” also produced this season at The Wick has not held up nearly as well.)
In 1983, “La Cage” was a huge risk on Broadway. The theater community has always been progressive and the show boasted a proven creative team, but would audiences embrace a story about flamboyant female impersonators? The answer is yes. At its core, the show was—and is—a charming love story that continues to win over audiences, even in our new era of same sex wedding and gay acceptance.
For this production, executive producer Marilynn Wick and director Norb Joerder have cast Broadway vets Lee Roy Reams as Albin (Zaza) and Walter Charles as nightclub owner Georges.
At first glance, both stars seem miscast, each easily 25 years too old for their roles. (A Google search reveals Reams is 72 and Charles is 69.) Reams channels a feisty Harvey Fierstein in his performances as Zaza, even though Fierstein never performed the role. His stage numbers are sung and acted with panache. He is at his best in the final scene of Act 1, an incredibly emotional “I Am What I Am,” after Albin realizes his lover and “adopted” son have spurned his feminine persona.
Despite his slender frame and careful movements, Charles sings with a powerful baritone, demonstrating the value of talent and experience in an industry that relishes youth. He is at his heart a song-and-dance man from a bygone era, but it works for Georges, especially “Song on the Sand.” Together, Reams and Charles perfectly conjure up the chemistry of the old married couple they portray.
Joerder walks a careful line throughout the production, allowing his cast, especially Phil Young as the butler/maid and the Cagelles, to subtly camp up their performances without getting too ridiculous. There is always some truth in stereotypes, but as LGBT people become more accepted, the camp is not as necessary to disarm homophobic audiences anymore.
The show is clearly about the relationship between Albin and Georges and Reams and Charles are the stars, but they are supported by solid performances from Aaron Young (son Jean-Michel) and Christina Laschuk (fiancée Anne). Among the familiar faces in the cast are locals Shane Tanner (Francis) and Angie Radosh (Mme. Dindon).
Resident musical director Michael Ursua capably leads the eight-piece orchestra, live music a wonderful addition in The Wick’s second season. And, of course, the costumes are dazzling, featuring some of the Broadway collection from the The Wick Costume Museum and also very sparkly originals for Reams.
“La Cage aux Folles,” by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein, plays at The Wick Theatre and Costume Museum, 7901 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton, through Feb. 15. Tickets are $58 and $62 at TheWick.org.