Culpeper Times CURTAIN CALLS: ‘La Cage' releases Folles at Riverside

Pull out your feather boa, your sequined gown and gold lame cape. Squeeze into those impossible high heels and don’t forget the fire engine lipstick.

Oh, and tell your wife to dress up, too. The “folles” have arrived!

This is a first for our favorite dinner theater. The Riverside Center has made the creative decision to branch out a bit and bring something not seen on a mainstream stage in the Fredericksburg area. But “not seen” doesn’t mean “new.” For all its glitter and illusion, “La Cage Aux Folles” has a very respectable 46-year history.

Born as Jean Poiret’s little French farce in 1973, the story captured the imaginations of Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein who gussied it up into a 1983 Broadway musical. That show took the Tonys by storm, winning six of the eleven nominations and inspiring the movie, “The Birdcage.”  “But I’m not done!” cried the diva known as “La Cage” and went on to enjoy two Broadway revivals – capturing the Tony for Best Musical Revival each time -- as well as the ’08 London revival and a Laurence Olivier Award.

The ‘girl’ has legs. Now she’s on the Riverside stage dancing her little heart out.

Patti D’Beck returns to choreograph and direct. I will save my hesitations for later, but emphasize here that when you have a choreographer who directs, you may be sure of good dancers. And because it’s a musical and this is Riverside, you will also have some very good singers as well as a top notch live orchestra.

For those who came late to the party, “La Cage…” is the story of two men, Georges and Albin, who live above their St. Tropez club, the extravaganza in drag known as “La Cage Aux Folles.”

Albin, known to the stage as Za-Za, is the star. They have also raised since childhood Georges’ son (from a brief experiment with a showgirl – he won’t do it again), Jean-Michel. Complications arise when Jean-Michel - headstrong youth! - engages himself to a young woman whose parents are the conservative leaders of a movement to stamp out drag clubs.

Our generous Emcee, Georges (Christopher Sanders) invites us into La Cage to meet Les Cagelles, the high stepping chorus line of the club. This introduction with the rousing theme song “We Are What We Are” sets the tone, with emphasis on “and what we are is an illusion.” Mr. Sanders plays the flexible Georges with aplomb; masculine enough (baritone voice emphasized) to be an acceptable “normal” father, and loving enough to love the mercurial Albin.

Albin, played by Gabe Belyeu, is the sine qua non of the club – and the show itself – for it is Albin who must be mercurial drag queen deluxe, loving ‘mother’ of Jean-Michel, and uncomfortable ‘Uncle Al’ for the girl’s parents. Mr. Belyeu is a gift to the role – a fickle but essential prima donna, infuriating, forgivable, and irresistible in the duet “With You on My Arm” sung and danced with Georges.

He is also the center of the night’s one truly spine-tingling moment. Realizing that Georges and Jean-Michel are reluctant for him to meet the parents as he is, he retreats into the anthem “I Am What I Am” wearing a spectacular gold-spangled gown and singing, not in-your-face, but with measured honesty, a touch of sad, and just a hint of the defiance of one who knows himself. And the audience was his.

The multi-talented John Flemming plays Jean-Michel, a normal youth who loves his non-traditional parents, but also recognizes the problem before him. Ultimately, it’s a problem of love, and when faced with the reality of the pain he has visited upon Albin, acquits himself manfully.

Anthony Cosby returns as Jacob, the butler-who-wants-to-be-the-maid, but REALLY wants to perform with the other Cagelles. His over-the-top pageantry with each entrance was a jolt of humor, but if he were MY butler, I’d chase him with a fly swatter – except, he’d probably like it.

I never thought I’d write in a public newspaper that Bob Beard makes a great Viking Queen, but there it is. As The Parents, Eduoard and Marie Dindon, Mr. Beard and Carol Hagy must extricate themselves from a most uncomfortably amusing - if you’re not them – situation.

Jacqueline (Andrea Kahane) is the author of that situation. Aside: if you’re looking for anything to remind you of France at this St. Tropez, keep looking.

Good conflict is driven by contrast – the tension between what you have and what you want – and that’s where a few technical weaknesses show up. While Kyna Chilcot’s costumes and Ron Keller’s scene design work together in the same key, that key is flat.

Drag queens are peacocks to the nines – the tens, if they can reach it. While there are occasional splashes of color and sparkle, there seems to be a serious headdress and sequin deficit. The club itself is functional but modest, nothing eye-popping, nothing to worry about. (The gold-stream curtain did make an occasional welcome appearance.)

This is also the tone of Georges and Albin’s apartment, which Jean-Michel desperately needs them to fix. What’s to fix? Haul away the nude male statue and put up a crucifix. Change two prints on the wall. Not to worry. The audience should see the apartment and clutch its pearls – or at least make a faintly audible gasp. No such luck. I’m rarely found in drag clubs for Sunday brunch, but if I were, I’d want ‘fabulous’ bordering on ‘outrageous’ – in a good way, of course. That’s all that’s missing here.

The dancers dance, the singers sing, the story is told, and an oddly sweet story it is. I give it two thumbs and a well-manicured pinky finger up.

WANT TO GO?

What:  “La Cage Aux Folles”

Where : Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, 95 Riverside Pkwy., Fredericksburg, Va.

Call: (540) 370-4300 or visit riversidedt.com

Playing through March 3