You want the good news first? The 26-year-old Stage Door Theatre has moved from Margate, across Broward County, to a gorgeous new $11.6 million playhouse, the 1,100-seat Lauderhill Performing Arts Center. With ample wings and fly space, plus all the bells, whistles and amenities that its former home lacked, the complex should be the envy of every other resident company in South Florida.
To show it off, however, Stage Door has overreached by producing Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s crowd-pleasing gay family values musical, La Cage aux Folles. The results will do, especially for theatergoers who have never encountered the show before, but the material really calls for more resources and talent than the troupe can muster.
Based on a French stage farce and subsequent 1978 French film, La Cage features two gay male partners, Albin and Georges, the drag queen headliner of a St. Tropez nightclub and its host-owner. Or as Fierstein’s jokey script puts it, “one transvestite and one plain homosexual.”
While Albin is a perpetual drama queen, the show’s actual drama concerns the arrival of Georges’ grown son, Jean-Michel – the product of a one-night fling to see what all the fuss of heterosexuality is about. The boy announces he is about to be married to – gasp! – a girl, and worse yet, to the daughter of a rabidly right-wing politician of the TFM (Tradition-Family-Morality) Party. Suddenly embarrassed by Albin and his campy affectations, Jean-Michel demands that his “mother” be absent from his own home during the prospective in-laws’ visit.
The show is decidedly pro-gay and pro-parent. If anything, it feels quaint these days, where the original Broadway production of 1983 was groundbreaking. Nevertheless, the score by Herman is one of his best, including the angry anthem, “I Am What I Am,” the touching salute to unconventional motherhood, “Look Over There,” and that rousing sing-along ear worm, “The Best of Times.”
Still, if ever there were a musical designed for lavish overload, this is it, and the Stage Door version is a few quarts low on extravagance. The chorus of La Cage “showgirls” has been reduced to a mere six members, whose gender is so obvious the show dispenses with the final wig-doffing reveal. There is a droll visual gag when Jean-Michel re-decorates his parents’ apartment to wipe away all clues of their sexual orientation, but set dresser Jameelah Baily never gave it much homoerotica, nor replaced it with much religious iconography.
Heading the cast and making his Stage Door debut is Jamie Michael Parnell (Georges), who moves well and has a more musical singing voice than the role requires. Georges usually is upstaged by the more flamboyant Albin, but here Parnell outshines Larry Buzzeo, whose singing was strained on opening night and whose first act finale was less volcanic than necessary.
Elijah Word is a veteran at playing Jacob the maid, broadly comic yet less of a disconcerting scene stealer than he was in MNM Theatre’s La Cage a year ago. And booming Kat Gold has a few good moments as restaurateur Jacqueline.
Director Bruce Linser, who has had a busy summer (Woody Guthrie’s American Song, Avenue Q) keeps the show in motion, which is no easy task, and gets an able assist from choreographer Danny Durr on the Cagelles’ raucous dance routines. And credit musical director Paul Reekie with the sound he gets from his seven-piece live orchestra, well balanced by engineer Rushnay Henry.
There is plenty to like in this energetic, if uneven, La Cage aux Folles, though it does not live up to the very promising new facility that houses it.
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, Stage Door Theatre at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center, 3800 N.W. 11th Place, Lauderhill. Through Sunday, Sept. 23. $48. 954-344-7765 or visit www.stagedoorfl.org.