Note: this column originally was posted on March 29, 2023, after “La Cage Aux Folles” opened at Diamond Head Theatre. The original art appearing here has been replaced with photos by Brandon Miyagi, which DHT provided a few days ago.
“La Cage Aux Folles,” now at Diamond Head Theatre, is a giddy and gorgeous musical bubbling with heart and hilarity, about a gay couple named Georges and Albin who share a home, a nightclub and heartbreak that test their longstanding relationship.
Georges (Guy Merola, grandly showcasing his tenor voice, with substantial operatic presence) operates “La Cage Aux Folles,” a hotspot in St. Tropez, France, where he is the supposed guy in a supposed hetero-homo lifestyle. His partner, Albin (Andrew Sakaguchi, in a career-best expedition as a gorgeous drag queen chanteuse, with abundant swish and sizzle), is the trans whose baritone soars to the high notes, on three-inch pumps and ultra glamorous wigs coupled with body-clinging gowns.
The narrative supposes this is a happy household, where Albin doubles as a “mom” to Jean Michel (Charles Ho, a cutie like the boy next door, who is the 20-something straight son of Georges) from a previous relationship named Sylvia, mentioned but not seen.
Guy Merola as Georges, Andrew Sakaguchi as Albin, the lovers in “La Cage.”
The wrinkle: Jean-Michel visits the couple’s apartment, which adjoins the sexy nightclub, to announce he’s about to marry g.f. Anne (Nanea Allen, also a cutie-beauty). Thus, the calm becomes chaotic, complicated and challenging, when the tempo and temperature rise.
Based on a play by Jean Poiret, with a book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, “La Cage” plays unabashedly gay, and preys on cliched and exaggerated manners, gestures and chatter.
But an undercurrent of traditional virtues and values — the respect for lifestyle choices that may not be the norm, the notions of acceptance and empathy, the bond of family harmony – echoes a rom-com involving two traditional lovers. Everyone, everywhere and everything become threatened by distortions, fibs and pretense, when, in fact, the show celebrates and humanizes the gayness of the leads.
Director John Rampage, a wizard of spectacle, has assembled a stellar cast to play out the different strains of the rainbow with sentimental turns without resorting to caricature. Sakaguchi doubles as choreographer, with swirls of clubby dancing, surrounding himself with the Cagelles decked out in eye-filling frou-frou. For the audience, it’s a guessing game to figure out which are women with plumes and sequins, which are men masquerading as exotic dancers on heels.
Merola, who is making a comeback after more than a dozen years away from the stage spotlight, has the best of times when his tenor works its magical spell. His handling of the “Song on the Sand” ballad, with those la-da-da-das, is captivating, and is generously heard twice (in Act 1 as a solo number, in Act 2 as a duet) with Sakaguchi’s powerful, pliable voice in both gentlemanly and womanly modes.
The tension and trauma unfold when the conservative parents of Anne, Edouard Dindon (Joe Martyak, perfect as a big shot bigot) and his wife, Marie Dindon (Kim Anderson, hilarious and open-minded) pay a visit to meet the parents of Jean Michel. The tangled play-out is over-the-top outrageous, but never falls to mockery.
A dinner with Georges (above, left) and Albin (below, right), at Chez Jacqueline Restaurant, formally introduces Jacqueline (Shari Lynn, in a cameo, repeating the role of the restaurant owner), enabling the dependable Shari to uncork her Jacqueline juice on “The Best of Times,” with Albin and Marie chiming in.
Composer Herman’s score is rich and savory, with two precise, enduring hits — the aforementioned “The Best of Times” and the be-who-you-are anthem, “I Am What I Am”–delivered with precision and pride in an empowering, ecstatic Sakaguchi interpretation that closes Act 1.
At the Saturday night (March 25) performance I attended, La Tanya Faamausili-Siliato’s sound was quirky and uncertain, crackling a few times with feedback. Ouch!
Phil Hidalgo’s music direction — silky smooth and smart, even employing an actor to “play” an accordion onstage — deserves a curtain call, but it’s impossible because the stage pit design disallows the bow. Quel dommage.
Madison Gholston’s first costume design assignment included a boutique-like array of garb, from showgirl glitz to snappy traditional men’s suits, from houseboy uniforms to the stunning formal glam garb donned by Albin, notably in Act 2. Bravo!
And makeup and wig designer Aiko Schick merits kudos for her flamboyant finery, in concert with the varied and imaginative hair design by Shaw Rodriguez. Magnifique!
Georges and Albin, seated, with the chorus of glam Cagelles in the background.
Steven Clear’s light design provided keen sheen, but Dawn Oshima’s set design was a wonderment, with limited utilization of the facility’s fly space, mostly lowering curtains and bejeweled ribbon drops and a couple of painted scenic. There’s still constant reliance of split-sets scenery of the Georges-Albin digs and a French promenade, wheeled out in sections on wagons instead of aerial drops (too heavy?) from the fly space. Porquoi?
“La Cage Aux Folles” reflects and embraces the joyous era of the musical with songs that audiences can sing or hum as they exit the theater. It also boasts a grand opening overture that includes the key hit songs, a formula of the prolific Rodgers and Hammerstein duo of yesteryear, still a requisite in revivals.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and the “Les Miserables” team of Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil are among the creative forces who have followed the R&H format, with appealing overtures and scores that produce breakout hit songs. …
“La Cage Aux Folles”
A musical based on a play by Jean Poiret, with songs and lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Harvey Fierstein
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through April 9, plus extended shows at 7:30 p.m. April 15 and 4 p.m. April 16
Where: Diamond Head Theatre
Tickets: $27 to $52, at (808) 733-0274 or www.diamondheadtheatre.com …
And that’s Show Biz. …