'La Cage aux Folles' at Marriott Theatre
There are two ways to think about “La Cage aux Folles,” the musical that debuted on Broadway in 1983, and was based on a French play of a decade earlier.
On the one hand, you can say it is a show about gay marriage and self-esteem that arrived a good deal “ahead of its time.” On the other hand, as the high-spirited revival now at the Marriott Theatre suggests, you can dub it an unabashedly retro story awash in elaborate dance numbers, full-force farce, a slew of stereotypes, and a good dose of sentimentality.
However you want to look at it, this is a feel-good musical with a score by that gifted melodic populist, Jerry Herman, and a book by Harvey Fierstein, the writer who would go on to star in “Hairspray,” and then pen the book for “Kinky Boots” — shows whose mission is to generate tolerance and acceptance.
The new Marriott production, directed by Joe Leonardo, and featuring terrific, eye-popping choreography by Melissa Zaremba...Gene Weygandt, in the central role of Albin — the star of a St. Tropez nightclub that specializes in drag entertainment — unquestionably nails the show’s anthem, “I Am What I Am.” And Weygandt’s artful echoes of everyone from Maria Callas to Marlene Dietrich and Barbara Stanwyck are expertly done. He clearly is having a marvelous time.
...when it comes to pure fun, this “Cage” is right on the mark. From the moment the drag chorus of La Cagelles arrives, and reveals ever more of itself by paring down from grand capes, to glittery gowns to mini dresses (cheers for Nancy Missimi’s scores of costumes), it keeps you laughing. And Zaremba has devised flamboyant chorus line routines and a genuine Follies-style fantasy world throughout, with everything from fast-tapping sailorettes, to a big Tropicana-style number, to an exceptionally beautiful and feathery white bird sequence. Happily, she also has steered clear of making the Cagelles too much like decadent “Cabaret”-style Berliners, putting an engagingly French edge on everyone except the whip-wielding Hanna.
The winningly individual Cagelles (J Tyler Whitmer, Raymond Interior, Adam Estes, Jordan Fife Hunt, Clayton Cross, Zachary L. Gray and Jhardon DiShon Milton) dance up a storm, with one notable ringer (Monique Haley as Babette), joining their ranks.
Susan Moniz, that tiny stunner (whose big talent is sorely underused on Chicago stages) adds her usual star power as Jacqueline, the ultra-chic restaurateur to the stars. Joseph Anthony Byrd is all muscle and comic swish as Jacob, Albin’s dresser, with Jameson Cooper as a much-abused stage manager. Elizabeth Telford is sweet and real as Anne Dindon, Jean-Michel’s true love, with Anne Gunn and Fred Zimmerman as her parents.
Ryan T. Nelson’s music direction, and the fine orchestra led by Patti Garwood, are first-rate.