Downsizing Broadway musicals to fit Equity waiver stages has become an L.A. theater tradition (and challenge) to companies with limited space and budgets. Though somewhat rough around the edges, the Knightsbridge Theatre’s production of Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s La Cage Aux Folles succeeds admirably and enthusiastically, re-imagining La Cage as a Studio City “tranny” bar yet losing none of the original’s laughter, musical dazzle, and tears.

When La Cage opened on Broadway in 1983, its middle aged gay lovers Georges and Albin were not allowed to kiss on the lips and many gay men decried having their diverse community depicted as (to quote one of the characters in the show) transvestites. By the time the 2004 Broadway revival rolled around, the lovers did indeed kiss mouth to mouth, and 2008 news photos of gay and lesbian weddings prove that we all are more alike than anyone ever imagined, with drag queens continuing to provide the entertaining spice of variety.

Thus, the timing is absolutely perfect for an L.A. revival, and with a sensational pair of leading performances, a fine supporting cast, and one of the most infectiously joyous ensembles around, the Knightsbridge’s production earns a deserved standing ovation.

The story of La Cage is well known by now, perhaps more for Mike Nichols’ movie The Birdcage than for the French original or the Broadway musical. Middle-aged gay couple Georges and Albin have raised Georges’ son Jean-Michel from infancy. When their handsome young son, now 24 and (despite the dire predictions of the “religious” right) 99.9% heterosexual, announces his plans to marry the daughter of Edouard Dindon, an ultraconservative politician, Georges agrees to Jean-Michel’s request that Albin not be present when his fiancée’s parents come to visit. Complications ensue.

Harvey Fierstein’s hilariously campy book simplifies the movie to make room for Jerry Herman’s expectedly hummable show tunes (Jean-Michel’s real mother does not appear in this version), but maintains the laughter and the poignancy of the original. Songs like “The Best Of Times,” “With You On My Arms,” “Song On The Sand,” and “I Am What I Am” have become Herman standards, with the latter a gay pride standard.

The Knightsbridge’s production, directed with passion by Rene Guerrero in remembrance of the now defunct “The Queen Mary” bar, is blessed in having a pair of superb performers as Georges and Albin.  Anibal Silveyra’s shoulder-length hair and Argentinean accent may make him a hard sell for most American musicals, but as Georges, they work quite well in his favor, gracias.  More important (and rave-worthy) are his thrilling baritone, sensational dancing feet, and the real feeling he brings to the role.  Matching him every step of the way (and with the added advantage that being “over the top” adds to his role) is Sandy Kaufman, perfection as Albin.  Whether having a temper tantrum, or belting out “A Little More Mascara,” or wearing one of Jorge Delgado’s dazzling gowns and Shawn Lochridge’s outrageous headdresses, Kaufman wins hearts again and again. The famous scene in which George attempts to teach masculinity to his sweetly feminine spouse is uproariously funny, and when Kaufman sells the Act 1 closer “I Am What I Am,” there isn’t a dry eye in the house.

In the role of Jean-Michel, telenovela handsome Ace Marrero is a real find, making the character sympathetic despite his selfishness, and singing “With Anne On My Arm” and “Look Over There” in a lovely romantic tenor. (Lucky Anne!)  Nikitas Menotiades gets laughs galore as butler Jacob, who’d much rather dress in girls’ clothes and be the maid. As the Dindons (dindon is French for turkey, by the way), William Knight is a hilariously outraged Edouard, Marti Hale funny indeed as his repressed wife champing at the bit to break free, and Aryiel Hartman makes for a lovely Anne. Nadia Ahern brings beauty and class to the role of Jacqueline, owner of the elegant restaurant next door, and Allana Barton (the show’s real life manager) has many good moments as La Cage’s stage manager Francis.

Rounding out the cast are Dana DeRuyck, Carolyn Freeman Champ, director Guerrero, Adam Jona, Emily Maisano, Nicole Maggi, Vitthal Mendieta, Paul Mialovich, Allan Penales, and Gerry Reyes playing various Cagelles (the La Cage showgirls and show“girls”) and other characters, performing their roles with energy and total commitment (and doing some pretty darned high kicks and acrobatic moves).  Yes, these are not the uniformly statuesque and gorgeous creatures that Broadway audiences most likely saw, but as denizens of the Studio City bar of Guerrero’s memory, they are just right.

Musical director Michael Collum provides flawless accompaniment on keyboard. (It’s a shame the Knightsbridge’s tinny sound system does not due him justice.)  Two songs are performed to excellent prerecorded tracks, by Yotam and by Michael Upward, with the same caveat re sound. Choreography is credited to “The Cast” and to lead dance supervisor / choreographer Penales, with Victoria Miller credited for “Can-Can Choreography.”  High kicks abound, surprisingly well executed by the aforementioned cast.

Vicki Conrad’s costumes are quite good indeed, considering what must have been budget limitations, as is Dana Moran Williams simple but effective set. Joseph Stachura’s lighting and Lorenzo Quiroz’s hair and makeup design are just right for La Cage’s Valley setting.

Having never seen La Cage Aux Folles The Musical before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, especially in a 99-seat theater setting. Though the 2008 references could easily have been cut without detriment to the production, I am happy to report that La Cage proved a happy surprise and I was more than happy to join in the standing ovation at the end for the talented and plucky cast.

Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944 Riverside Dr., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
July 5, 2008

Comments are closed.