REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre’s ‘La Cage aux Folles’ a rollicking, madcap extravaganza with heart

Robin Williams had many memorable roles, but one of his most amusing roles was alongside Nathan Lane in the 1996 film adaptation of “La Cage Aux Folles,” “The Birdcage.”  Who could forget when Robin gave that dance tutorial?

Though “The Birdcage” was set in Miami Beach, the musical production of “La Cage Aux Folles” is set in Saint Tropez, France.  With European flair and heart, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston presents the wild, gender-bending, and hilarious musical, “La Cage Aux Folles” through Sunday, August 18 at Robinson Theatre in Waltham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles James Darrah as Albin with the Cagelles

James Darrah as Albin (center) and Les Cagelles Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

A translucent, glittering blue curtain was just a glimpse of the glitz behind it as the musical’s catchy and exotic overture began, peppered with European flair.  Directed by Susan Chebookjian with book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, “La Cage aux Folles” is about Georges (J.T. Turner) who runs a drag night club and Albin (James Darrah) is the show’s star attraction.  When Georges’s son announces his engagement, everyone realizes they are in for a lot more than they bargained for.

With amazing choreography by Susan M. Chebookjian and Daniel Forest Sullivan, “La Cage aux Folles” bursts with color, razzle dazzle, and unlike “The Birdcage,” features a lot more dance numbers delivered by the sharp and athletic Les Cagelles.  The opening, gender bending tune, We Are What We Are, is a nimble display of tight choreography while the signature number, La Cage aux Folles is stylized, bizarre, and fascinating.  The show is also semi-interactive, which contributes to some of the productions most amusing moments.

Matthew Wright and Alison Pugh’s fantastic costumes are flashy, elegant, and over the top featuring wild, multi-colored wigs, shimmering gowns accented with furs and other costumes using an array of materials such as velour and silk with a bit of 70s flair.  The colorful set, by David Allen Jeffrey, is equally exotic featuring velvet couches and gold accents as well as its share of seaside, Mediterranean flavor and little French nuances at Cafe Renaud.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles J.T. Turner as Georges

J.T. Turner as Georges Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

The quirky, madcap cast is an excellent study in contrasting perspectives and family dysfunction.  In a purple velour coat with bowtie, J.T. Turner delivers a charming, comical, and tender performance as Georges.  Love struck and irresistibly likable, Georges is the heart of the show.  He has a beautiful rapport with Jonathan Acorn as his son, Jean-Michel and James Darrah as Albin, delivering heartfelt renditions of Look over There and wistful Song in the Sand.  The impressive comic timing between Turner as Georges and Darrah as Albin doesn’t get much better than during the number, Masculinity, especially while demonstrating their best John Wayne.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles Cafe Renaud

James Darrah as Albin (center), J.T. Turner as Georges (right) and cast Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

James Darrah as Albin, who possesses more than a passing resemblance to Nathan Lane, delivers a dramatic, engaging, and powerful performance as Albin.  Often not so fashionably late, Albin contends with his longing to hide from the world and his undeniable need to make an entrance.  His rendition of I Am What I Am is a Tour de Force performance, the best number of the show.  Full of bravery, yearning, and emotional weight, it is an anthem for those who feel like they do not belong.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles James Darrah as Albin

James Darrah as Albin in Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s “La Cage aux Folles” Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Jonathan Acorn as anxious Jean-Michel is madly in love with his fiancée Anne.  She delivers a sweet and earnest performance by Lily Steven.  Theirs is a sweet love story and Acorn’s beautiful timbre is on full display during the affectionate number Anne on my Arm.

The show cuts loose with adventurous and delightful Maureen Brennan as Marie up against Rich Allegretto as relentlessly frowning, disdainful and uptight M. Dindon.   Speaking of cutting loose, Benz Atthakarunpan’s energetic, smirking Jacob delivers more than a few self deprecating moments in outrageous and surprising costumes while Ellen Peterson brings cleverness and a great set of pipes to Jacqueline.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles Dinner

J.T. Turner as Georges, Jonathan Acorn as Jean-Michel, Lily Steven as Anne, Rich Allegretto as Dindon, Maureen Brennan as Marie, and James Darrah as Albin Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

The show is a bit lengthy, but delivers more than its share of laughs from the dynamic and charismatic cast.  With pizzazz and heart, Reagle Music Theater of Greater Boston presents their final musical of the summer, “La Cage Aux Folles” through Sunday, August 18 at the Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston on Twitter and Facebook for upcoming events and more.

Boston Camerata’s Artistic Director Anne Azema talks Fortune and greed in classic satire ‘The Tale of Fauvel: A Political Fable from Medieval France’

With a dose of comedy and memorable music, The Boston Camerata kicks off its 64th season with an enduring satire on hypocrisy, abuse, and greed called The Tale of Fauvel: A Political Fable from Medieval France on Sunday, October 28 at the First Church of Boston at 4 p.m.  Based on a 14th century poem the Roman de Fauvel, this compelling piece focuses on corrupt rulers and the effect they have on society.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

 

The Boston Camerata’s Artistic Director Anne Azema portrays Fortune in this political fable.  She describes her pivotal role, the show’s contemporary significance, and plans for the future.

Sleepless Critic:  You took on the role of Fortune in Tale of Fauvel: A Political Fable from Medieval France. No doubt Fortune must play a powerful role in this piece.

Anne Azema:  Fortune or Lady Luck, a kind of pagan Goddess surviving into the Christian Middle Ages, is a powerful presence and presented as a female in medieval literature. According to the Carmina Burana text, she holds the world in her hands, sits on her wheel, will raise some and crush others – and will leave you shirtless, with a bare back.  Fauvel, the Orange-Maned Horse, has put in his mind to conquer the entire world by wooing and then marrying Fortune.  Little does he know Fortune’s answer to his courtship is a severe put-down.

SC:  This show is a satire, but it carries a contemporary significance ahead of the midterm elections.

AA:  Fauvel began Camerata’s long series of story-telling programs, an effort that continues to this day.  I think Fauvel’s truculent criticism of hypocrisy, abuse, and greed in public life continues to be as relevant as the headlines in today’s newspapers. Some of the lines from 1310 seem so relevant, it will give you shivers.

SC:  What was it like working with the cast?

AA:  A complete joy!  Our core team has performed this piece in various configurations before.  Aside from our three singers, we will have two instrumentalists and a narrator, who will share, in irreverent English verse, the adventure of our Horse, Fauvel.

We are also happy to include Longy School of Music of Bard College students and Brandeis students.  They will all take part in the revels of Fauvel’s Wedding Night!

SC:  What inspired you to bring it to the Boston Camerata stage this season?

AA:  Its manuscript source is interesting on many levels so it is well known both to musicians and literary types who have an interest in early repertoires.  It’s a vehement diatribe in verse against the abuse of power in Paris of 1310, but there is a visual aspect to the book which includes beautiful illuminated miniatures. The music, an anthology so to speak, of varied genre and style of pieces, were songs that were circulating in Paris at the time.  They were either recycled from other sources to fit the narrative or composed to illustrate the purpose.

Camerata developed a first version of Fauvel in the 90s as a commission for Warner/Erato.  Within the Boston Camerata’s repertoire are programs both recently created and ‘classic’. Our Fauvel falls into this latter category. We are delighted this production continues to be in demand both here and in Europe.

SC:  What sort of music will this show offer?

AA:  Written many centuries ago but very accessible, the music is direct and acoustical.  It’s a mixture of voice(s) and instruments in a small setting. The public is close to the performers and has an ‘organic’ access to them.  The trademark to our performances is a blend of spontaneity, energy, and emotional commitment with careful research and scholarship.

SC:  Though this show has its moments of humor, this piece is message-driven. What is the best reason you think people should see this show?

In the end, I believe what is important is spending an entertaining hour or more together. Although the music is seven centuries old, it is totally enjoyable.  Its beauty and energy will bring you to another powerful place and frankly, speaking of humour and satire, we all need to blow off a little steam in this highly fraught moment.

Boston Camerata Fauvel (2)

The cast in action. Photo courtesy of the Boston Camerata

 

SC:  Boston Camerata’s 64th season boasts a wonderful lineup including Christmas performances Puer Natus Est: A Medieval Christmas and Gloria! An Italian Christmas in December. How do you select each season’s performances?

AA:  My choices are driven by my personal interests, the teams we have, the repertory book we want to keep alive, and by our mission to create new programs combined with touring and recording demands. The idea is to keep us and our audiences alert, perky, and open to new experiences.

SC:   I understand you are also a soloist, often writing your own pieces, touring, or recording. Please tell me about that.

I just returned from touring Canada with a One Woman Show, a show which presents music of the 12th and 13th century. These recitals, alone or with colleagues, offer a different way of connecting with the public and demand a deeper relationship with the music.

SC:  What work you are currently working on?

AA:  I will continue to look at narratives/storytelling and prepare several recording and media projects in the coming seasons.  Besides our medieval shows, we’ve been involved in early American music. We are also working on the release of our Naxos CD recorded last season in the context of a Canadian, American, and Dutch project. We recorded The Harmonia Mundi CD in September and that will contain some powerful, motivating American songs of resistance and rebellion!

For one day only, The Boston Camerata presents The Tale of Fauvel: A Political Fable from Medieval France on Sunday, October 28 at the First Church of Boston at 4 p.m.  Click here for more information and tickets and be sure to follow The Boston Camerata on Facebook for all their latest news.