Strong Leads, Fantastic Vocals Mark Steel River’s LA CAGE

by Gina Vitolo-Stevens

Taylor Helmers as “Nicole”, Robb Russ as “Monique”, Robb Hutter as “Georges”, Brett Kenna as “Dermah”, and Michelle Wurtz as “Angelique”. (Photo credit: John Daggett)

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (sponsored by Exelon Generation) opened this weekend and runs through Sunday, June 23rd, at the Steel River Playhouse (SRP) in Pottstown, PA, where the talented main cast exudes guts and glitter, while the supporting ensemble in high-heels trips through the dance numbers.  The opening night production was headlined by SRP’s Annual Gala, honoring co-Founder and Artistic Director Deborah Stimson-Snow, and benefactors Susan and Scott Bentley, owners of VideoRay of Pottstown. Through the years the Bentleys have donated equipment, meeting, storage and lesson space, time and money. The guests gathered on the second floor, enjoying live opera by talented singers (such as lyrical tenor Michael Kiesling), acknowledgements of the Guests of Honor and SRP’s staff and volunteers, who worked tirelessly to organize the night of revelry. All of the food and accoutrements were donated by local businesses. Some guests walked away with raffle prizes including season tickets to SRP, Phillies basesball, dinner for four to Maggiano’s, golf and more. Co-Founder Marta Kiesling paid homage to her partner Stimson-Snow, the recent recipient of the 2013 Advocacy for Equal Opportunities Award from the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission, Montgomery County Advisory Council, for her influential work at SRP in advancing civil rights, equal opportunity, intergroup opportunities or human dignity.

Guest artist, Director David Gram required little mascara to extend the star-power of his leading players in this staging of the Tony Award-winning musical, but the choreography was beleaguered by the Les Cagelles, who, despite fantastic vocal ability, navigated the staircases and set uneasily (in platforms, no less), sometimes taking the tempo of a scene from upbeat to down. The success of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES comes when a production can deliver the farce and energy of the raucous, big numbers, with the same intensity at poignant moments, still being true to the original script about gay life, love and loyalty on the French Riviera.

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, with its book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by composer Jerry Herman, originally won six Tony Awards in 1984 with that very design in mind. The musical went on in 2005 to win Best Revival of a Musical and in 2010 Best Revival of a Musical and Best Director of a Musical with Terry Johnson at the helm. The script was adapted from the 1973 stage farce by Jean Poiret and the 1978 film of the same name.

Set in a St. Tropez drag club, La Cage aux Folles, Georges, the proprietor of the nightclub, is asked to hideaway his lover of 20 years, Albin aka ZaZa, an entertainer and drag queen at the club – its star performer. Stress ensues when Georges’ son, Jean-Michel, his only child from a youthful, intoxicated fling, returns home with news that he’s engaged to Anne, the daughter of Edouard Dindon, the political leader of a prestigious anti-gay organization.

Rob Hutter (of Philadelphia and Toronto) plays Georges, the manager of the St. Tropez club and the lover and partner of Albin as unwavering, committed, and the eternal optimist. Hutter is comfortable in his skin as Georges, and unaffectedly makes the audiences feel that he is in charge without being domineering in this complex relationship with his long-time “wife”, Albin. He glides across the stage as if La Cage aux Folles is most definitely his second home. The guy who wears the pants in the relationship, Georges is constantly trying to soothe Albin’s fears of abandonment and insecurities in a homophobic world.

Kirk Lawrence as “Albin”. (Photo credit: John Daggett)

Kirk Lawrence (of Reading) as Albin/ZaZa is incomparable in the lead role. Lawrence projects electricity, even when sitting and applying “A Little More Mascara”. The frenzy is always in control –it’s hard to harness all that angst and energy in this role, but Lawrence does it with panache. With quick costume and hair transitions, Lawrence rarely missed a beat. What was particularly natural in his portrayal, were the verbal and physical links Lawrence threw out to his fellow actors – a sigh, a touch, a look. Albin’s metamorphosis into ZaZa reminds us that the two men are one, never far away from each other’s wants and desires. When Lawrence looks into Hutter’s eyes, one understands where love truly resides – wherever the heart is.

David Landstrom (of Lambertville, NJ) as Jean-Michel is relaxed and has a wonderful voice, and Adam Newborn (of Hershey) as Jacob can’t help but steal the show on more than one occasion. He unapologetically ignites each scene he trounces, pirouettes or finger-snaps his way through.

Brent Adams (of Perkiomenville) as Edouard Dindon, and Sharon Sigal (of Ardmore) as Madame Dindon are the couple everyone wants to forget to send an invitation to – nosy, judgmental and snobby. Adams and Sigal pass on their affectations with elitist precision, and their lovely, daughter Anne played by Josephine Patane (of NYC and Paoli) is the ideal juxtaposition to their stodgy ways. Patane enters like a breath of fresh air and makes everyone in the room want to pick her up and spin her around. Her lovefest with Landstrom is altogether cuter than the cutest episode of “Glee.” It reminds us of Rolf and Liesl in THE SOUND OF MUSIC before the war.
Jen Dinan (of Phoenixville) glows as the French, chic, perennial hostess Jacqueline. Her smile and social savoir faire makes you want to pick up a nearby phone and book a reservation at her restaurant for the night.

Others in the cast include Hal Holzer (of Limerick) as Francis, and Burt Merriam (of Pottstown) as Messieur Renaud. The “Les Cagelles” are played by James Barksdale (Reading), Troy Cooper (Mohnton), Taylor Helmers (Pottstown), Brett Kenna (Gilbertsville), Deedee Mann (Norristown), Zach Reynolds (Jeffersonville), Robb Russ (Philadelphia), and Will Scantling (Upper Darby). Additional cast members include Drew Carr (Royersford), Kendal Conrad (Pottstown), Charles Delaney (Collegeville), Sean Hafer (Reading), Randy Miller (Mt. Penn), and AJ Sermarini (Boyertown).

The orchestra pit is designed to be tucked back behind the movable staircases. The veiled backdrop adds to the allure of the changing set. It is playful when ZaZa breaks the fourth wall, turns back and greets her supporting musicians; divine at all times.
Director David Gram recently completed six years teaching acting and directing at Boston University’s School of Theatre. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, he is currently a Washington, DC-based theatre and opera director, actor, and instructor. Formerly, David served as the Artistic Director of Boston Opera Collaborative, Artistic Director of Shifting Point Theatre in Vancouver, and as Assistant to the Artistic Director of Tapestry New Opera Works.

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES may have dance challenges, but as for the rest of the production, the “I Am What I Am”, “Look Over There,” “Song on the Sand,” and title number are what they are, and you’ll want to grab a friend by the arm and listen to these contagious Herman tunes.

Music/Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by David Gram
June 6 – 23, 2013
Steel River Playhouse
245 E. High Street
Pottstown, PA 19464

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