Free Lance-Star Review: Warm up to a fabulously funny ‘La Cage aux Folles’

The French Riviera comes to Fredericksburg as “La Cage aux Folles,” with its irrepressible star Zsa Zsa, flies into the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts.

And what better way to escape this arctic blast than with a heartwarming show about love and family, complete with drag queens and flashy musical numbers?

“La Cage aux Folles” is packed with humor and heart as it follows an older gay couple, Georges and Albin, and the challenges they face when Georges’ son, Jean-Michel, announces his engagement to the daughter of a super-conservative politician.

Based on French writer Jean Poiret’s play, “La Cage aux Folles” has seen many a star in various productions since its Tony-winning debut, including Kelsey Grammer and George Hamilton, and most famously, Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in its movie adaptation (“The Birdcage”).

With director and choreographer Patti D’Beck, Riverside’s staging of the beloved Broadway hit is an instant charmer, and leading the way is Christopher Sanders as Georges. In his Riverside debut, the actor—who has played everything from the Beast to the Phantom—is perfectly cast as the smooth-talking nightclub owner, who starts off the show with a warm and funny welcome. With a book by Harvey Fierstein, and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, “La Cage” is stuffed with snappy one-liners and memorable tunes. And with Sanders’ great baritone voice, songs like “Song on the Sand” and “Look Over There” are a heavenly listen.

Starring as Georges’ flamboyant partner Albin (and headlining performer Zsa Zsa) is Gabe Belyeu, and these two make quite the comedic duo. Audiences may remember him as Bill, one of Donna’s former boyfriends, in last year’s “Mamma Mia!” at Riverside. Belyeu brings his impeccable comedic timing to the role of the outspoken and tempermental—but totally lovable—Albin. However, you won’t hear a laugh during one of the musical’s best scenes, which shows a hurt and defiant Albin after learning Jean-Michel doesn’t want him around for the meeting with Anne’s parents. The delightful song “We Are What We Are” has now turned into a powerfully stirring anthem “I Am What I Am.”

Although Jean-Michel eventually learns his lesson, it’s still infuriating that the 24-year-old feels he’s ready to get married, yet wants to hide the man who helped raise him, let alone ask Georges to do the asking. He also goes through all the trouble of redecorating his parents’ home to something more conservative. (On a side note: The set design was a bit understated. It could have been much more bolder, especially the apartment and nightclub. Let’s give Anne’s dad something to really fuss about.)

Bringing much comedy to all the family drama is the sassy maid/butler Jacob, hilariously played by Anthony Cosby, who wants to be one of Georges’ nightclub performers, and who could blame him?

Les Cagelles—played by Andrew Prowant, Kyle Fleig, Benjamin Brackley, Kevin M. Taylor, Thomas Delgado and Joshua James Crawford—are a crowd-pleasing bunch as they power through a string of buoyant musical numbers and colorful costumes, courtesy of Kyna Chilcot. One of the standouts is the super-leggy Crawford, who first appears in a winged gold, sparkly leotard, and then later mesmerizes with some flipping action–in heels!

Bedecked in sequins and feathers, “La Cage aux Folles” is much more than a drag queen spectacle. It’s a story about love in many forms—between men, man and woman, parent and child—and most importantly, about being true to yourself.

Onstage through March 3, there’s plenty of time to become a part of this moving and “mad extravaganza.”