By Dale King
A theatrical production long delayed by the COVID pandemic has finally opened for a two-weekend run at the Delray Beach Playhouse.
Three months before DBP officially begins its 75th season, the venerable venue on Lake Ida turns its stage over to the Barclay Performing Arts Theater for a run of Jerry Herman’s gender-bending musical, La Cage aux Folles.
A standing ovation on opening night and sold-out houses Friday and Saturday evenings strongly suggested general approval of the performance that features some savvy actors, a live band and a veteran backstage crew.
La Cage comes to the shoreside showplace through a newly launched educational partnership between Barclay and DBP.
Christine Barclay, owner and artistic director of the Boca Raton-based acting company she created in 2016 to honor her late father, John Barclay, a director, educator, actor and founder of the Weston Drama Workshop in Weston, Mass., said La Cage was slated to debut in March 2020 when “it was shut down two weeks before opening night” by the pandemic.
“We kept the hope alive that we would be able to bring this beautiful and important piece back to life,” said Barclay, who also directs the show. “Luckily, when the world reopened, the team at the Delray Beach Playhouse graciously opened its doors for us.”
A cast of nearly two dozen performers – most of them boasting ample on-stage experience – is topped by two top-notch actors: Michael Gillespie as Georges and Richard Weinstock as Albin/ZaZa. They portray loving partners in a gay relationship for 20 years. Georges operates a drag nightclub in St. Tropez, where Albin, in his alter ego, feather-boa’d ZaZa, is an elegantly cross-dressed songster.
During a long-ago, one-night stand with a woman, Georges fathered a son, Jean-Michel (Phillip Andrew Santiago), who has now grown into manhood. He shows up with news that he’s getting married. But his fiancé, Anne (Shelby Tudor) is the daughter of a bigoted politician, Eduard Dindon (Rick Prada), who’s a raging homophobe.
La Cage, which debuted on Broadway in 1983, takes place in the 1970s. While it initially broke barriers for gay representation on stage, it has lost some of its oomph in the light of modern-day sexual mores. In 2022, the show seems a shade stodgy in a time of gender fluidity and drag queen reading groups.
Thankfully, rather than quash the humor in La Cage, this acceptance brings a new light to the musical, which has a book by Harvey Feirstein, based in turn on a French play by Jean Poiret.
While the acting in Barclay’s La Cage aux Folles occasionally falls short of the mark, the show is well worth seeing. The music is excellent, the set is sparse, but adequate, the costumes are superbly designed and crafted and the dancing – thanks to deft choreographer Sara Perry – is fascinating.
We all know that live music is vital to a superior performance. Providing melodies for La Cage are band leader Ed Kolcz, keyboardist David Taustine, percussionist Frank Derrick and Val Shaffer on bass.
Clearly, “The Best of Times,” the show’s signature tune and finale, reigns as best musical number. “Look Over There,” a somber ballad, shows up twice. Georges vocalizes it longingly and sadly to soothe Albin’s desolation for being excluded from family fun. The tune gets a more positive rendition when Jean-Michel sings it as an apology to Albin for the chaos of a family gathering gone bad.
The bouncy “With Anne on My Arm,” featuring Georges and Jean-Michel, is light and carefree. Conversely, “Song on the Sand,” by Georges and Albin, may evoke tears for its emotional depth.
Albin earns raves for his rendition of “I Am What I Am.” In fact, the song – the Act I finale – earned praise as a “gay anthem.” It’s a telling counterpoint to the opening number, “We Are What We Are,” performed by the ensemble and the Cagelles dancers.
Among other cast members, Mo Font is finely flighty as the maid, Jacob. Domineering restaurant owner Jacqueline (Spensyr Bach on Friday and Sunday, Heather Samsay on Saturday) shows her stage prowess with a powerful performance. Don Bearden adds plenty of laughs as the hapless stage manager, Francis.
Prada comes on strong as the homophobic politician, but the importance of the situation and its ultimate resolution are lost in a muddled finale. Santiago and Tudor do their best to flesh out cardboard cutout roles.
The show does sparkle physically, thanks to technical director and sound designer Andre Lancaster, scenic artist Cindi Taylor, lighting designer Sonia Buchanan, production costume coordinator and seamstress Celia Glasser and Cagelles costume designer Beverly Millet. Briana Erhart excels as wig master, lead dresser and dresser to Richard Weinstock.
La Cage aux Folles continues through Sept. 18 at the Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 NW 9th St. in Delray Beach. For tickets, visit https://barclayperformingarts.com/ and click on the Tickets icon.