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Risqué Business

No longer edgy, 'La Cage' still has something to say

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CAGE MATCH Michael Conte shines in his two lead roles. - ERIC CHAZANKIN
  • Eric Chazankin
  • CAGE MATCH Michael Conte shines in his two lead roles.

It's been 35 years since La Cage aux Folles took Broadway by storm. What began in 1973 as a French stage farce followed by a series of films, the Harvey Fierstein and Jerry Herman musical was considered daring for its time with its portrayal of a happily domesticated male couple thrown for a loop by a request from their son.

With marriage equality the law of the land and RuPaul's Drag Race a crossover hit, La Cage seems less daring today, but its message of self-acceptance still packs a punch. The musical is running at 6th Street Playhouse's G.K. Hardt Theatre through May 20.

Georges (Anthony Martinez) is the proprietor of La Cage aux Folles, a French Riviera nightclub that features drag entertainment. The headliner is "Zaza" (Michael Conte)—actually Albin—Georges' partner of 20 years. Together they raised a son, Jean-Michel, who's come home to announce his engagement and his desire for his fiancée's parents to meet with his biological parents. Albin is not to be included, as Jean-Michel's soon-to-be father-in-law happens to be the leader of the right-wing Tradition, Family and Morality Party. It's going to be quite a gathering.

Herman's Tony Award–winning score runs from the romantic ("Song on the Sand") to the comedic ("Masculinity") to the joyous ("The Best of Times"), and hits its apex with "I Am What I Am," a defiant ode to individuality.

There are two terrific lead performances in this Russell Kaltschmidt–directed production, both delivered by Michael Conte. As bombastic as he is as diva-deluxe Zaza, he's even better as Albin. Conte brings real emotional depth to his character as he deals with his son's rejection. It's a depth that's lacking from Martinez's rather bland Georges.

Nice comedic support is provided by Joseph Favalora as their butler/maid, Jacob, and Michael Fontaine as the stuffed-shirt politician. His 12-syllable delivery of a five-syllable word had me laughing out loud. Lorenzo Alviso also does well as the thoughtless son who soon sees the error of his ways.

The design budget must have gone almost entirely to the costumes, as there's almost no set to speak of, but Zaza and the other dancers' couture almost makes up for it.

Social progress may have dimmed some of the audaciousness of La Cage aux Folles, but it still has plenty of heart.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★

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