What happens when family values collide with lifestyles that are out of society's mainstream?
Thirty years ago, Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein's campy musical comedy "La Cage aux Folles" addressed that question with an attitude that was part tongue-in-cheek and part social commentary.
The Grand Theatre's current version of this multiple Tony Award-winning show is a fast-moving, no-holds-barred production that is consistently entertaining.
The good news is that "La Cage" does not seem dated, but that's also the bad news. Even though gay and lesbian couples can now lead their lives much more openly, the voices that oppose them seem to have become louder and more solidly entrenched. And the divisions in our society that keep us from understanding one another appear deeper than ever.
But that's a subject for another type of play. "La Cage's" touch is so light and its desire to please so clear that it's impossible to dislike it.
Georges (David Hanson) and Albin (Kenneth Wayne) are a gay couple who run a nightclub on the French Riviera. When Georges' son, Jean-Michel (Logan Tarantino), announces that he is engaged and wants his fiancÃ©e's family to meet his parents, it poses a dilemma. How do you explain to your prospective in-laws that the only mother you've ever known is a flamboyant transvestite named Zaza who stars in the club's musical revue? Especially when your fiancÃ©e's father is the deputy general of the Traditional Family and Morality Party? As Georges tries to explain to the hurt and insulted Albin, "You're wanted. It's what you bring with you that's questionable."
What gives "La Cage" heart and depth is that Georges and Albin are not just pasteboard characters; they come across as real people with genuine affection for each other. Hanson's and Wayne's performances tap into that mutual love and respect in numbers like "Song on the Sand," where their voices blend in perfect harmony.
As Jean-Michel frantically tries to turn Jared Porter's garish apartment set into what looks like a monkish chapel, we are treated to a cabaret show featuring Zaza and the Cagettes. The words of their opening song "We are what we are, and what we are is an illusion â¦ half real and half fluff; you'll find it tough guessing our gender" gets new meaning when you discover that only six of them are men in drag; the other two are women.
Scott Stuart, Brian Nelson, Nicholas Morris, Joshua-Samuel Robinson, Timothy Knoll, Karilen McDonald, Kalika Rose and David Higley skillfully show off director Brent Schneider's eclectic and acrobatic choreography, a pastiche of Rockettes kicks and Moulin Rouge cancans.
Tarantino and Angela Avila are attractive and personable as Jean-Michel and his fiancÃ©e, Anne, and David Guy Holmes is hilarious as Jacob, a butler who desperately wants to be a maid. Amanda Reiser and Yancey Quick have designed a constantly changing fashion show of 120 costumes and 45 wigs, shown off by Seth Miller's colorful, upbeat lighting. Schneider's playful direction keeps the characters constantly interacting with the audience.
Schneider's director's notes "invite [us] to discover the pleasures of seeing life from a different perspective through the eyes of another â¦ a world where each of our unique personalities and 'colors' contribute."
"La Cage aux Folles" reveals that the warmth of family relationships breaks through the boundaries of traditional definitions.
'La Cage aux Folles' at The Grand
The perceptive performances and lively song-and-dance numbers of the Grand's production reaffirm the enduring charm of "La Cage aux Folles."
When • Reviewed on May 8; runs Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. through May 25; Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. on May 11 and 18. Additional performance Wednesday, May 15, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Grand Theatre on the South High campus of Salt Lake Community College at 1575 S. State St., Salt Lake City
Tickets • $10 to $24 with discounts for students, seniors and groups. Call 801-957-3322 or visit http://www.the-grand.org for tickets and information.
Running time • 2 1/2 hours (including an intermission)