Sunday, September 21, 2014

La Cage Aux Folles—Pixie Dust Productions—downtown Portland

Love…Ain’t It Grand!

This popular musical is written by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein, directed by Greg Tamblyn, musical direction by Alan D. Lytle and choreography by Erin Shannon.  It is playing at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through October 5th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-704-8991.

Originally this was a non-musical, French film (by Jean Poiret).  Then it was adapted as a musical for Broadway and was very successful.  Finally it became a non-musical, American film called The Birdcage with the (late, great) Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.  Now Greg and Pixie Dust, responsible for the terrific, Beauty and the Beast, last year (with some of the same actors in this), have embraced it and given Portland another outstanding, musical production!

And it was grand to have the multi-talented, Portland icon, Darcelle, co-host the opening of this play. If you have not seen one of Darcelle’s shows, do go, they will “broaden” your viewpoint of show biz,  They were also helpful, I’m sure, of consulting on costumes, make-ups, movements, etc. of the actors in this show.  And what a chorus there is, too, all of which should be mentioned for their exhilarating song and dance numbers:  Jeremy Sloan, Jared Warby, Carlos M. Quezada, Anthony Chan, Jameson Tabor, Jeff George, Vanessa Elsner and Erin Shannon (the choreographer).

The story is rather simple and sweet.  A couple has raised a young man to adulthood and now he is getting married and wants his parents to meet her folks, who are prominent in the political arena.  Problems arise as the mother of the boy is rather…eccentric, in behavior and it seems necessary to remove her temporally from the picture.  Mild conflict, perhaps, but it all seems rather innocent, right?

Except what I didn’t tell you is that the boy’s parents are Gay or, as they put it, one transvestite and one homosexual.  And that they run a rather…naughty cabaret involving female impersonators, with the boy’s Mom as the star and his father as the Emcee.  And, oh, yes, one more thing, the boy’s future Father-in-Law is a Senator who is campaigning against Gay Rights and smutty nightclubs.  Muddies the waters a bit, doesn’t it?

Anyway, George (Lief Norby) and Albert/Zaza (Joe Theissen) have been a couple for 20 years and are in love.  They have a rather interesting butler/maid, Jacob/Claudia (Kevin Cook), who is more than happy to share observations into their actions.  Their son, Michael (Jack Levis), engaged to Anne (Sophie Keller), would prefer to have his birth mother present (for obvious reasons mentioned above) and so Albert, who raised him, must make himself scarce.  And so the proverbial…manure, hits the fan when the Senator (Stacey Murdock) and his wife (Pam Mahon) arrive for dinner.

To even have told you this much is giving bits of discovery away, so I will just say that it is a growing experience for all involved (perhaps, even the audience) and that Love will out in the end.  Of course much of the show is expressed in the musical numbers, which are fabulous.  Love may be a fleeting thing, at times, for all of us but it is real and will not be denied.  It is multi-layered and knows no boundaries such as gender, age, beliefs, cultures, and imagination.  It is what it is…and lays at one’s feet…waiting to be enacted upon.  Treat it gently…and with tolerance.

The chorus numbers, as mentioned, are outstanding!  But so are the more personal songs.  The showstopper, of course, is I Am What I Am (dynamically sung by Theissen).  He and Norby also have a poignant number in With You On My Arm, as well as the touching, Masculinity.  And the rousing, The Best Of Times, with both families, is fun.

Tamblyn has done another impressive job in putting the pieces of this intricate show together.  He also manages to pull out all the stops, not only with the musical numbers but with the little, more intimate moments, as well as milking all the comic bits possible out of the situations.  Lytle is a master with his orchestra and does not overpower the actors.  And, my hats off to Shannon, who excels in directing the dancing of all these people.  She has created a work of art, as I see it.

The costumes and make-up by some of Darcelle’s people (coordinator, Margaret Louise Chapman) are almost a show in themselves and the wigs (Jane Holmes) are, also, a work of art.  Glenn G. Gauer (a designer icon for years) has assembled very striking and easily changeable sets.  Musicals are by their very nature, difficult to produce, but this company is one of the top as to the execution of them!

Theissen is brilliant!  Everything he does onstage in the many guises he dons, works.  Every bit, every nuisance is perfectly timed and portrayed.  It doesn’t get any better than this!  Norby is also a pro and you feel his frustration at the dilemma in trying to appease his son but being faithful to his lover.  And Cook nearly steals the scenes that he’s in, with his constant mutterings and asides at the proceedings.

I highly recommend this show, with the understanding that it deals with adult subject matter.  It is a story about Love…Love of Life…of family…of neighbors…and of that one special someone, whoever they are!  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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