Short North Stage’s Rapturous La Cage Aux Folles
Short North Stage continue their season with a beautiful version of the hit drag comedy La Cage Aux Folles. Jerry Herman (music and lyrics) and Harvey Fierstein’s (book) 1983 Broadway adaptation of Jean Poiret’s play is directed by Michael Licata and choreographed by Edward Carignan.
Albin (Thom Christopher Warren) is the star attraction at La Cage Aux Folles’ eponymous Saint-Tropez nightclub. His partner Georges (Neal Mayer) owns the club and serves as MC. Georges’ son, Jean-Michel (Kyle Carey Miller), was born of an affair with a Paris showgirl but raised with Albin as his maman.
Jean-Michel returns after college with news he will marry Anne (Holly Atwood), the daughter of a bureaucrat running on legislating mortality, Edouard Dindon (John Stefano) and his wife, Mme. Dindon (Linda Roth). Jean-Michel asks for the pretense of normalcy to keep up the appearances for his in-laws and, like all classic French farce, the comedy is built on both good intentions going wrong and venality taken to its extreme.
Like Short North Stage’s still running Rocky Horror, their La Cage Aux Folles makes the most out of the time in which it’s set. Licata and Carignan soar with the fireworks of its big, splashy numbers. The delightful Cagettes — stand-outs include Nick Lingnofski’s Chantal and Mitchell Kallner’s Phaedra — conjure classic musical razzle-dazzle with a modern wink but never veering into parody, on “We Are What We Are” and backing Albin on the titular song. Marcus Davis gets enormous laughs as that classic French-comedy archetype, the maid, Jacob.
The first act’s closing “I Am What I Am” is the apotheosis of the self-determination standard. Warren makes the theatre quake with it, as strong a version as I’ve ever heard; belting underpinned by all the character’s hurt channeled into a blue flame of what he will and won’t stand.
Licata also turns up the warmth on the human story backstage and after hours, aspects that made La Cage such a boundary-crossing hit in the 80s. Mayer’s Georges and Warren’s Albin have delicate, lived-in chemistry. A delightful aspect of this production is how it foregrounds the difficulty and the benefits of growing old with someone, of keeping love alive for years.
Mayer crushes one of the most beautiful songs in any Herman score, “Song in the Sand,” and holds down the play with a less showy character. Warren takes what has to be a marvelously fun role and mines it for nuance in the midst of the ball he‘s clearly having. Neither of them ever have to strain for one of the great laughs here or visibly shift gears for the quieter moments. Stefano’s villain is a hilarious counterpoint to the two men, making the most out of limited time on stage.
La Cage Aux Folles runs through Nov. 19 with shows at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more info, visit shortnorthstage.org.