La Cage aux Folles
directed by David McMahon
at the Adams House Pool Theater
First they convert their swimming pool into a theatre. Then, to inaugurate it, they fill it with transvestites. In true Adamsian style, La Cage aux Folles was staged as the first production in the Adams House Pool space. With its tidy sitcom plot, neatly resolved and well-acted, and its requisite cross-dressing humor and flamboyance, Harvey Fierstein's musical does justice to this theatre opening.
The new theater is a cozy space built right inside what used to be the basin of the pool. Old lecture hall seats, minus the fold-up desks, are placed neatly down a slope to the deep end. The entire theatre, including the stage, is elevated about four feet above the pool floor by a system of wooden beams (I peeked under a trap door); this hollow, thin stage helped four slim girls with tap shoes register a 6.0 on the Richter scale in the first scene. The remnants of the pool are beautiful: an old sloped roof gives the feeling of a small playhouse, while brass guard-rails, a grey marble deck, ornate stone ledges and an enormous marble sculpture of Neptune's head at center stage remind us of why Adams was once called the `Gold Coast.'
This theatre provides a zany place for La Cage aux Folles. The first musical number starts behind the audience, as the show girls (most of these really are women, not men--casting must have been a problem) descend from the elevated entrance balcony on two curved staircases. We are introduced to a small family of transvestite night club performers in St. Tropez: the proprietor and ringmaster Georges (Art Shettle), his diva husband, Albin or "Zsa-Zsa" (Michael Conte) and their motley crew of dancers and friends.
One day Georges' son Jean-Michel (J. Matthew Riopelle), whom he and Albin raised together, returns home to announce his engagement to Anne Dindon, the daughter of a right-wing politician. Having invited Anne's conservative parents to meet his, Jean-Michel asks the effeminate Albin to hide himself while his biological mother and father put on a show to fool the Dindons. Albin's huffing and puffing, Jean-Michel's desire to gain the approval of Anne's parents, and Georges' attempt to mediate produce a series of hilarious, made-for-TV situations of mishap and complication. Albin tries to act heterosexual; Jean-Michel's mother fails to show at the last moment; a restauranteuse identifies Albin as Zsa-Zsa...
All of this is cleverly resolved in the end, of course, with a well-timed surprise that makes sense. The plot is engaging and entertaining.
Michael Conte as Albin is flamboyantly effeminate without overdoing it. His whimsical gestures and the simple, giggly joy we see on his face as he transforms himself into a woman in "A Little More Mascara" is hilariously frivolous. His singing is predictably nasal and weak as Zsa-Zsa, but intent and masculine in "I am what I am," signaling the end of Albin's tolerance for Jean-Michel's denial of him.
Art Shettle as Georages handles the initial father-son exchange with honesty and forthrightness. The interaction he has with Conte is endearing, although at times, his voice becomes a bit laggardly. J. Matthew Riopelle as Jean-Michel has a crystalline, resonant voice, with a very well-controlled vibrato. He plays a keen, maturing son, but in Friday's performance sometimes found the joks in the play so funny that he could not contain his own smirk. Ethan Golden as the stage manager Francis and as Mrs. Dindon provides timely comic relief, especially as the politician's muppet-like wife. And Richard Brooks as Mr. Dindon is a stern man with a few caricatured features.
Hugh Minton's musical accompaniment on synthesizer, is versatile enough that one does not notice that there is only one instrument. Director David McMahon has kept the script moving, and the actors at a high level of energy and focus for the eighty-minute show. Watching this is as easy as watching an episode of "Three's Company."
The finale, although weakly sung, is a merry crescendo of transvestism to end the evening. With all characters now in drag, and everyone happy, one has no doubt that the Adams House pool has finally found its true calling.