Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn
milwaukeesfs

Off-The-Wall Theatre Company, "La Cage Aux Folles"

On Sunday the 13th, we went downtown to the Off-The-Wall Theatre
Company's production of the musical "La Cage Aux Folles" ("The
Birdcage").

We are very fond of this show. We first saw it in Scotland in 1992. We
were there in August, which is the time of the Edinburgh Festival and
its "Fringe" which draws in arts groups from all over the world,
performing in every venue and hall that can be found, ranging from the
grounds of the castle (which hosts the famous Military Tattoo) to a
converted school bus. We had gotten in line for Fringe tickets at the
central box office and were intrigued by members of the Cambridge
College group who were promoting their show to the queue, one of whom,
in a long evening gown, was doing a vigorous if precarious dance atop a
concrete bollard at the streetside. We took one of their flyers, and,
when the show we had intended to ask for was sold out, decided to take
tickets for "La Cage" as next choice.

The show ended up being a long trek across town and staged in an
upstairs schoolroom with bleacher seating, but it was magical and we've
never forgotten it.

For those not familiar with the plot, Georges (Dale Gutzman, in the OTW
production) runs "La Cage Aux Folles" a San Tropez nightclub famous for
its drag review, which stars Albin/ZaZa (Karl Miller), Georges' "wife"
of more than twenty years. Georges also has a son, Jean-Michael, the
result of a heterosexual experiment 24 years ago. Jean-Michael has
become engaged to Anne (Jacqueline Roush), the daughter of a notoriously
homophobic politician (Lawrence J.Lukasavage). In order to gain Anne's
parents' consent to their wedding, Jean-Michael demands that Georges and
Albin help him conceal the fact that he has been raised by two gay men.
"Hilarity ensues" in a French-farce inspired fashion, but "La Cage" has
a lot more heart and sincerity than the typical farce.

In fact, I said, "Look, for the holidays we want something sweet and
sentimental with lots of family values" --which describes "La Cage Aux
Folles" perfectly--. There is the self-affirmation of "A Little More
Mascara" and "I Am What I Am;" songs about love and loving, "With You On
My Arm," "Song on the Sand," and "Look Over There;" and the inspiring
"The Best of Times Is Now." It really is hard to find a show with a more
uplifting set of lyrics.

Although Dale Gutzman has been a feature of the Milwaukee theatrical
scene since I got here, I'm more used to him in the
Impresario/Producer/Director role, and was glad to see he's still got
'chops' for performing. He's a good actor, did a decent soft-shoe, and
sang Georges' role with strength, emotion, and precision. It would be an
overstatement to say he has a beautiful voice, but then the role doesn't
call for it. (The cast album you can get stars Gene Barry as Georges,
who is not exactly famous as a musical star--). Karl Miller as Albin
quite steals the show as the character ought. He's wonderfully comic as
Albin, but when "in character" as ZaZa, has the drag star mannerisms
down pat, and is mostly quite passable in character, unlike some of the
"Cagelles," for whom a certain lack of realness has valuable comic
effect. (Not to say that all the Cagelles were in bad drag, quite the
opposite, most were quite good. (One of the more thankless jobs in
theatre must be to be a member of the Cagelles when you are a real woman
as some in the cast were. You do everything the males do but don't get
any extra points for it--.)) Miller is a powerful singer, and absolutely
the high point of the show was the first act finale, when he lets it all
out on "I Am What I Am." We are used to hearing and seeing Albin's
defiance in this song, but Miller also gave us Albin's raw hurt and
anger, and it was truly affecting. In the second act big number "The
Best Of Times," Miller showed a charm and charisma that made you
understand and believe why "ZaZa" is the most beloved performer on the
Cote d'Azur. (It is a pity that the movies adapted have all been
non-musical, since a lot of Albin's best material is in the music.)

Another long-time Gutzman associate, Jack Forbes Wilson, provided the
musical accompaniment, and also interacted with the cast as "Jacques,
the pianist," and did a marvelous job that made you forget the "band"
was only a piano and some occasional percussion.

The principals were very well supported by the rest of the cast, with
special kudos to the "Cagelles"; Mercedes (Jeremy C. Welter), Phaedra
(Parker Cristan), Chantal (Ben George), Hanna (Christopher Elst), Fifi
(Paul Pfannensteil), Angelique (Liz Mistele), Paulette (Annie Mater),
and Soupcon (Sharon Rise); all of whom danced enthusiastically and often
acrobatically in the theatre's cramped quarters. (Located in a former
storefront, I often think of it as the "Hole-in-the Wall Theater." It is
amazing what they do in there.)

The show drew a well-deserved standing ovation, and we overheard that it
is sold out for the rest of its run. We left feeling very happy and
humming the music.
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