Sunday, June 9, 2013

Steel River’s ‘La Cage’ is an upbeat romp filled with love and laughter


Kirk Lawrence as Zaza.  Photo by John Daggett
 By Cheryl Thornburg

POTTSTOWN— Even if you’ve been feeling down and out lately, Steel River Playhouse’s current production, “La Cage aux Folles,” is just the ticket to pick you up.

Robb Hutter, center, as Georges withe the Cagelles. Photo by John Daggett
Filled with the upbeat numbers and tender ballads of Broadway’s Jerry Herman and the witty and wild dialogue of Harvey Fierstein, “La Cage” is a laugh-inducing romp about an unusual family, an older gay couple raising a son (who is the product of Georges’ youthful indiscretion with a show girl).  Their  life may seem unconventional, but at heart it’s just a loving family — even if home is the popular drag-queen night club, “La Cage aux Folles.”

When the son, now 24, returns home to announce his engagement to the daughter of a bigoted, anti-homosexual politician, the stage is set for a modern, guess-who’s-coming to dinner plot that will seem familiar to those who have seen the movie, “The Birdcage,” starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

“La Cage” adds great music to the mix, resulting in lots of laughs with some thought-provoking undertones, which has made it one of the most successful musicals of all time, garnering lots of Tonys.

With its over-the-top setting, it would be easy for the characters to become cookie-cutter caricatures, but director David Gram has skillfully guided the actors to create fully-rounded people that are not only funny, but have depth and heart. It takes a gifted cast to pull that off, and Steel River has rounded up some of the best from the region and beyond.

At the heart of it all are Georges and Albin, the gay men who have been together for more than 20 years. Robb Hutter as Georges and Kirk Lawrence as Albin and his alter-ego, Zaza, have a warm and believable chemistry, that has the audience quickly realizing they are just like any other couple with their jealousies, squabbles, and misunderstandings, but underneath it all is a longstanding and still strong love for each other.

Kirk Lawrence transforming into Zaza. Photo by Carceri Gingrasso
Lawrence delivers a memorable performance as Albin/Zaza, switching from the insecure, but big-hearted Albin to the exuberant and flamboyant Zaza with ease. In a scene where he puts on make up as he gets ready to go on stage at La Cage, he literally slowly transforms from one to the other as he sings, “A Little More Mascara.” His powerful “I Am What I Am” at the close of the first act is stunning and leaves the audience squarely in his corner.

But it takes two to make this work, and Hutter is the perfect other half of this dynamic duo.  He is the “plain” one as he declares, but then, anyone is plain compared to Zaza. Hutter instead creates a finely-nuanced Georges, who struggles as he tries to tell Albin/Zaza, that their son doesn’t want him to attend the meet-the-parents dinner. His guilt is palpable as he tries to accommodate the two loves of his life, Albin and their son, Jean-Michel. That love permeates the ballads he sings, “Song on the Sand” to Albin in the first act and “Look Over There” to Jean-Michel in the second.

David Landstrom plays Jean-Michel, the young man so in love, that he doesn’t realize how much his request has hurt the man who has essentially been his mother. Landstrom’s delivery of “With Anne on My Arm” in the first act epitomizes young love as he exuberantly sings and dances with Ann, played by Josephine Patane. He slows things down a bit in the second act with a poignant reprise of ‘Look Over There” as he realizes how deeply he hurt Albin.

Wearing some of the most outlandish outfits in the show, Adam Newborn steals every scene he’s in is as Jacob, the butler who insists he’s a maid. Newborn is a born comedian and he has the audience laughing at every turn.

“La Cage” couldn’t be La Cage without the Cagelles, the most flamboyant, over-the top-show “girls” in Paris or Pottstown.

Delivering high-energy hijinks as  “Les Cagelles” are James Barksdale as Hannah, Troy Cooper as Mercedes, Taylor Helmers as Nicole, Brett Kenna as Dermah, Deedee Mann as Angelique (the role was played by Michelle Wurtz on June 7) Zach Reynolds as Chantal, Robb Russ as Monique and Will Scantling as Phaedra. Watch out in particular for Hannah, the whip-cracking Cagelles. The costumes, makeup, and some first-rate comedic acting leave everyone guessing “is she or isn’t she?”

Rounding out this fabulous cast are Jen Dinan as Jacqueline, Brent Adams and Sharon Sigal as Anne’s parents, the Dindons; Hal Holzer as Francis, Burt Merriam as Messr. Renaud, and Sharon Brown Ruegsegger, Drew Carr, Kendal Conrad, Charles Delaney, Sean Hafer, Randy Miller, and AJ Sermarini .

Adding to the ambience of the entire production are Michelle Wurtz as choreographer, Barbara Newberry and the orchestra, Carcheri Gingrasso as scene designer, Ally Boughter as costume designer, Chinere Wright as wig, hair and make-up designer and countless others.

Fine-tuning the music for the production is Deborah Stimson-Snow who managed to bring out the best in everyone, especially in the rousing, handclapping, “The Best of Times,” in the second act. Lead by Lawrence and Dinan, this number had the audience joining in and wanting more, which is the best recommendation for any show.

“La Cage aux Folles” continues Thursdays through Sundays through 23 at Steel River Playhouse, 245 E. High St.,  in downtown Pottstown Tickets are $15 to $26, with special cabaret seating at $68 for a table for 2 (includes complimentary beverages and snacks). Tickets are available online at or by calling the box office at 610-970-1199, or at the door when available,

"La Cage" contains some sexual references, and some parents may perceive aspects of the material to be inappropriate for young children.


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