'La Cage Aux Folles' is campy to near perfection at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

Tacoma Musical Playhouse has creative engine singing and dancing on all cylinders for ‘La Cage Aux Folles’

May 23, 2014 

“La Cage Aux Folles” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse is fabulous.

The only criticism I have is that the romantic dance number with Jean-Michel (Joey Schultz) and Anne (Emily Tuomey) needed a few more rehearsals, but since I saw it opening weekend, here’s hoping they’ll put more spark in it in coming performances.

Beyond that, it was as nearly perfect as a romantic musical comedy can be. The sets by Judy Cullen, lighting by John Chenault, and costumes by Margot Webb and Grace Stone are gorgeous. Jon Douglas Rake’s directing and choreography are in top form, and the orchestra, directed by Jeff Stvrtecky, is as good as I’ve ever heard them.

In short, everybody involved in this lavish production seems to be having the time of their lives, and they convey their love of the show to the audience.

Previous versions of “La Cage” that I have seen were campy in the extreme. This version is just campy enough, but underneath the glitter is a sincerity that is palpable. Beyond the over-the-top comedy and the great music and dance, it is a sweet love story and a message never too old to be told: Everyone should be celebrated for who they are, a theme stated in the opening musical number, “We Are What We Are.”

The stars are Georges (Andrew Fry), the aging emcee at La Cage Aux Folles nightclub, and his life partner, Albin (Jeffrey Bassett), a transvestite performer who lives in drag on and off stage. Their son, Jean-Michel (a child born out of Georges’ only tryst with a woman) is engaged to marry Anne, and has invited her uptight, ultra-conservative parents to meet his parents, meaning Georges and his biological mother, whom he’s never even met. He’s worried that if they meet Albin and realize who his family really is, it will wreak havoc on his wedding plans. This situation sets the stage for enough cross-dressing and mistaken identity to be worthy of Shakespeare.

TMP’s forte has always been big, lavish musical numbers, and the big numbers here, featuring a chorus of men in fabulous drag with a few women mixed in (I challenge audiences to spot which are which), are as lavish and as delightful as any I’ve seen. The acrobatic dancing and creative choreography is quite impressive.

Georges’ emceeing is in the style of an old-school song-and-dance man, and Fry inhabits the role so comfortably that it’s easy to forget he is acting. His dancing is smooth and graceful, he sings with heart, and he conveys his deep love for Albin with sincerity. Bassett plays the more outlandish Albin with just the right touch of flamboyance, without overdoing it, while coming across as fully human and vulnerable. Both Fry and Bassett are veterans of musical comedy, and they were marvelously cast in these roles.

Also outstanding are Isaiah Parker as Jacob the “maid,” who is the campiest character in the show, Dana Johnson as Anne’s mother (hilarious in a drunk scene), and John Miller as the stage manager at La Cage who is disastrously in love with a dominatrix in the chorus.

If you see only one musical comedy this year, make it “La Cage Aux Folles” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. La Cage Aux Folles

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, through June 8

Where: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma

Tickets: $20-$29

Information: 253-565-6867, tmp.org

alec@alecclayton.com Check Clayton’s blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com for reviews of other area theatrical productions. Watch for a review of “A Rock and Roll Twelfth Night” at Harlequin Productions.

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