Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 24, 2017

La Cage aux Folles

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA 
through May 28, 2017
by Shera Cohen

Photo by Kait Rankins
One of the most recognized songs from “La Cage aux Folles” is the often-reprised “The Best of Times.” There could not be a better time for the Majestic to mount the Tony Award winning musical “La Cage Aux Folles.” While a tiny bit of politics fills the story-line, more apropos is the general populous’ contemporary issues on gay acceptance. More directly and importantly, however, the subject is the all-inclusive emotion of love of family. “La Cage” was penned over 40 years ago, when TV and storybook households looked nothing like that of married couple Georges and Albin. Whether the year is 1974 or 2017, it is still old-fashioned love that holds a family together.

Ben Ashley (Georges), as always, proves himself a fine actor with skills that nearly reach the artistic level of his tenor voice. Georges essentially plays straight man (pun intended) to Luis Manzi’s Albin (aka drag queen Zaza). The question of whether one role is more difficult than the other can only be answered by the actors. Manzi plays big -- big ego, big presence, big voice. At the same time, Albin is sensitive and vulnerable. His emotional “I Am What I Am,” the musical’s signature song, could not have been better sung by anyone.

There are many actors to praise, but I single out Doug LeBelle, a newcomer to me. His maid/butler role is so off the wall scene stealing that she/he deserves her/his own musical.

The setting, a French nightclub/home, is yet another example of Greg Trochlil's perfect staging work. The design is simple – spanning the entire width of the stage and up as high as the painted clouds. Huge kudos to Dawn McKay, Christine Thompson, and Tony Isham who dress their dancers aglow with sequins and an array of colors, from hairdos to heels.

Stacy Ashley has cautiously realized her chorus line as female dancers (although portrayed by male actors). They take their jobs seriously while having fun, yet never exploiting or campy. That was a thin line to cross.

“La Cage” is long at 3-hours. Act II was a bit sluggish, perhaps because director Danny Eaton had many scene changes to contend with. The band (Mitch Chakour, once again at the helm) played background medleys continuously, which helped diminish the lag time.

The main problem with “La Cage” is the playbill’s missing song list. That page is, after all, the most important in any musical’s program. However, I will manage to live without it.