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“La Cage Aux Folles” is the Best of Times at Barrington Stage

In the Berkshires, it’s becoming a tradition for Barrington Stage Company to open the summer season with a big musical. This year it is the 1983 Jerry Herman musical “La Cage aux Folles”. It comes complete with spectacular costumes, exuberant dance numbers and high quality performances. It makes for a most pleasurable production. 

“La Cage Aux Folles” is a comic look at a same sex relationship that becomes endangered when a couple is forced to deny their relationship in order to impress a right wing politician. 

Georges is the owner of a nightclub that features drag performers. Albin, his lover of 20 years is a flamboyant star at the club. When Georges listens to his son, begot from a drunken one-night dalliance, he agrees to leave Albin out of the meeting with the son’s future father-in-law, who is an extremist politician. The decision leads to hurt feelings and comical attempts at trying to be someone you are not. 

What makes “La Cage…” such a meaningful experience is that the comedy is but a framework to show what it means to an individual to be rejected. People sometimes learn to cope when the rejection comes from strangers, but when it is from someone close the hurt runs deep. Albin is aghast that his partner and son, whom he was like a mother to for most of his life, are willing to deny his right to a flamboyant personality. 

It shouldn’t come as a spoiler to say eventually Albin’s family comes to their senses, the bigots are comically put in their place and as the final song says, it becomes “The Best of Times.” 

And, for most of the show, it is the best of times. When the musical is about entertainment the show is excellent. Director Paul McGill and choreographer Mike Donahue just keep topping themselves with the production numbers. Many shows end with a standing ovation. This show deserves one at the end of the first act. You might walk out of the theater humming “The Best of Times,” but the first act finale “I Am What I Am” is what moves you. 

The direction is special in that the ensemble is used as supporting characters, who are meant to be recognized drag queens who intermingle with the mainstream in real life. Combined with some dark moments, the ensemble takes on an edgy, sometimes coarse presence, throughout the production. They are not to be taken for granted. 

Despite the phenomenal production numbers, the drama in the show lacks emotional heft. That’s because, at this time, there is not yet a devoted relationship established between Albin and Georges. Tom Story as Georges fails to show how this betrayal of their love hurts him as much as it does Albin. This lack of early compassion tempers the affection the two must have for each other. Given the solid performance of Story throughout the production, it is reasonable to expect this to improve over the course of the run through July 6. 

Alex Michaels is fantastic as Albin. He’s a delight throughout and a major reason you should not hesitate to attend the show. A gifted drag artist who earned popularity on Rue Paul’s Drag Race, he is an excellent actor with a great sense of comic timing. It’s not a leap to imagine him a leading man in other plays. Adding to the fun is an over the top performance of Phillip Taratula as the butler/maid, Jacob.

A quibble is the costuming. They are gorgeous throughout and especially clever when used for the ensemble. However, to signal the son as living in the 80s is an error. 

The theme of this play is still relevant. States have bans against men appearing on stage in women’s clothing and sexual identity is a major social issue. This show is not an anachronism, and that’s another reason to see it before it closes. 

“La Cage Aux Folles” plays at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield through July 6. For tickets and scheduling information go to barringtonstageco.org

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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