The Pride Of Saint Tropez, The Envy Of The Cabaret World, The Jewel Of The Riviera, in other words Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s La Cage Aux Folles, has opened its doors in beautiful downtown Claremont as Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre debuts its absolutely fabulous big-stage revival of the 1980s Broadway classic, directed and choreographed with abundant flair by Roger Castellano.
With one catchy Herman tune after another (including the sing-along-ready “The Best Of Times” and the gay anthem “I Am What I Am”), a hilarious book by LGBT icon Fierstein, and a message of love and acceptance every bit as relevant in 2016 as it was in its 1983 Broadway premiere, there’s no musical quite like La Cage.
John LaLonde and Chuck Ketter star as Riviera nightclub manager Georges and the unapologetically flamboyant Albin, the undisputed star of Georges’s Les Cagelles drag show and the unequivocal love of his life.
Plot wheels get set in motion when Georges’s twenty-year-old son (the result of his father’s one and only heterosexual one-night fling) announces to Papa his impending nuptials to the daughter of a right-wing, anti-gay politician.
Not surprisingly, this causes considerable ruffling of plumes (and not just those on Zaza’s headdresses and boas).
Add to this Ketter’s fabulously gay-rainbow-hued art deco set, Steve Giltner’s glitzy lighting design, and above all the spectacularly imaginative array of gowns (provided by The Theatre Company and coordinated by Merrill Grady) and Michon Gruber-Gonzalez’s outrageously over-the-top wigs and you’ve got one of the most sensational-looking Candlelight productions ever.
And talk about sensational, drag goddesses don’t get any more sin-sational than the long-limbed lovelies brought to high-heeled, high-kicking life by Dylan Pass as Hanna (“Women call her devil, police call her daily”), Reece Taylor as Phaedra, aka “The Enigma,” Joshua Youngs as “triller from Manila” Chantal, and the equally stupendous Eric Stanton Betts (Dermah), Kima Christian (Angelique), Tad Fujioka (Nicole), Chad Takeda (Mercedes), and Jesse Ashton Rhodus (Bitelle).
Southland treasures Lisa Dyson and Karla Franko deliver a couple of highly-polished comedic cameo gems, the former as the repressed wife of ultra-conservative Edouard Dindon (a terrifically full-of-himself Steven Biggs), the latter as Riviera restauranteuse extraordinaire Jacqueline.
Orlando Montes scores laughs as injury-prone La Cage stage manager Francis (who wouldn’t be nearly so injury-prone without whip-cracking Hanna From Hamburg as his paramour), as do Daniel Reyes and Rachel McLaughlan as the café-owning Renauds.
Still there could be no La Cage Aux Folles without a star-power pair of performers to bring Georges and Albin to sophisticated/flamboyant life, and no two Candlelight luminaries fit the bill better than LaLonde and Ketter.
From Sweeney Todd to Captain Von Trapp to Juan Perón, no one at Candlelight has demonstrated greater versatility than velvet-piped artistic director LaLonde, and if there’s any part he was born to play to perfection, it’s epitome-of-suave Georges.
As for Ketter, whether throwing one divalicious tantrum or pouting to get his own way or entertaining La Cage-goers in French chanteuse mode or attempting in vain for even a smidgenette of “Masculinity,” Ketter is the man, and his “I Am What I Am” brings down the house.
Rod Bagheri music directs La Cage Aux Folles with abundant pizzazz, playing keyboards in the five-piece live band whose very presence (combined with their musical expertise) puts this Candlelight production in a class by itself.
Daniel Moorfield is stage manager. Montes is technical director. Executive chef Juan Alvarado and sous chef Maria Sandoval serve up Candlelight’s invariably yummy cuisine. Kudos as always to Candlelight Pavilion owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, and especially to artistic director LaLonde.
In a season highlighted by the “traditional-family-friendly” Mary Poppins, La Cage Aux Folles does the year’s best job of demonstrating true family values—commitment, acceptance, laughter, mutual support, and unconditional love. I give it an unconditional WOW!
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
September 4, 2016