THEATRE REVIEW: La Cage Aux Folles

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THEATRE REVIEW: La Cage Aux Folles

Austin James dotes on Noah Wagner in between drag performances.

Austin James dotes on Noah Wagner in between drag performances.

Austin James dotes on Noah Wagner in between drag performances.

Austin James dotes on Noah Wagner in between drag performances.

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With its June 29 opening date, there is truly no better way to celebrate the conclusion of Pride Month than by appreciating the infectiously funny banter and convincing moments of soul searching that this production serves in spades.

As the subject matter feels very true to current affairs, audiences will spend most of the show in slight disbelief— was this really based off a work of the early 1970s? It feels rather pertinent.

Long Beach Playhouse’s open floor stage allows for the show’s pizzazz-infused entrances and exits to pop with dramatic flair and— considering the setting is predominantly a drag nightclub— the ambiance of the playhouse feels true to the vibe of La Cage Aux Folles.

The opening number, “We Are What We Are,” immediately ensnares the audience with its rhetoric of confusion and mystique, but with a charm as the ensemble dancers (Les Cagelles) are not necessarily completely synchronized in movement.

Each performer pulls away to do their own personalized bit, furthering the theme of embracing individuality. Amid all the chaotic excitement, Georges (Stephen Alan Carver) is a charismatic and capable master of ceremonies, effectively pushing the club’s acts and the scenes merrily along.

Enter Georges’ “wife,” Albin (Noah Wagner), in a subsequent scene and the show truly achieves liftoff. From “(A Little More) Mascara” to the first act’s climactic finish with the iconic “I Am What I Am,” when Wagner hurls a wig with full force and seizes the reins of the show for Albin’s drag act, Zaza.

Meanwhile, Georges’ son, Jean-Michel (John Vann) announces his engagement to the daughter of a conservative politician to Georges and requests his birth mother be involved in the proceedings instead of Albin, who would instead be swept under the rug as a hopefully well-kept secret.

From here, the three principal characters each struggle to maintain control of the narrative: Jean-Michel desires to carry out his marriage without his colorful upbringing becoming a point of focus or contention, Albin strives to not be written out of his surrogate son’s story nor be kept hidden from naysayers and poor Georges just wants his family to remain a family.

Fortunately, the level of camp banter and shenanigans keeps the musical from feeling too heavy-handed. For this, we can thank Harvey Fierstein’s clever and witty book and the very welcome presence of comic relief Jacob (Austin James), who keeps the audience doubled over even in the show’s darker moments.

What ultimately keeps La Cage Aux Folles intact is the heart of its cast of relatable characters helmed by the direction of Sean F. Gray and Stephen Olear as well as the choreography of ‘Phie Mura.

If the plight of the unconventional family does not grip you, the surplus of banter will as well as the poignant message that transcends time: love is love.

Gray notes, “[La Cage Aux Folles] affirms that a family is the one you create out of love, not the one society approves of. It reminds us to love who we are, not pretend to be what makes others comfortable.” This rings true, for while all the chorus dancers are presenting as women, they are played by all genders.

Sure, you could sit there and try to determine one from another—but does it really matter? Open your heart and enjoy the show.?

La Cage Aux Folles runs from June 29 to August 3 at the Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St. Tickets are on sale from $14 to $24. Online ticketing is available at lbplayhouse.org. The theater’s box office can be reached at (562) 494-1014.