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La Cage Aux Folles (East/West Players)



 
Artistic director Tim Dang is retiring from East/West Players in a few weeks, after having been a mainstay for over twenty years, directing many of their plays and musicals.  So, the Jerry Herman/Harvey Fierstein 1983 musical, “La Cage Aux Folles,” is his last for EWP, at least for the foreseeable future.

The setting is Saint-Tropez, on the southeastern side of France, along the fabled French Riviera.  A glitzy drag bar, La Cage Aux Folles (the correct translation is The Cage of the Mad Women, but it’s also a slang expression for drag queens), is owned by a middle-aged gay couple, George (Jon Jon Briones) and Albin (Gedde Watanabe).  Albin is the titular star of the place, with a half-dozen boys-as-girls living it up for the mostly straight tourists.

They have a grown son, Jean-Michel (Jinwoo Jung), biological offspring of George from when as a chorus boy he experimented during a drunken liaison with a chorus girl.  He has come home from college to inform them that he’s getting married to a lovely young lady, Anne (Audrey Cain), but with a key complication:  her parents.  Edouard Dindon (Michael Hagiwara) is a fanatical anti-gay politician and his wife, Marie (Sharline Liu) is meek and brow-beaten. 

Jean-Michel is convinced (with good reason) that there will be no marriage if her parents meet his parents and, therefore, please Dad, make sure Albin isn’t there?  A heavy-duty command, n’est-ce pas?   So the second act is about figuring out where a mother can be found, or how to disguise the reality of Albin.

Mayhem ensues, with major musical numbers spelling out how okay this gay couple is and how wrong the straight older couple are.  It’s based on a 1973 French farce, the 1978 French film version, and the 1996 Mike Nichols/Elaine May film adaptation, “The Birdcage.”

But, through no fault of any of the myriad creators, and for all its glitz and glamour, as well as its outré humor, the show has been outmoded due to current circumstances: the advancement of transsexual rights (idiotic conservative opposition be damned!).  Suddenly, this “extreme” subject, mostly held to societal ridicule until now, is old hat.

And the producers and director haven’t helped by unwisely taking it out of its period (the late ‘70s and early ‘80s), which lessens the reality of the situation.  Dang and company have done right by it, theatrically, with this production, casting all Asian and Pacific-Islander (except for Cain) actors, which neither hurts nor helps the musical.  Briones, Watanabe, Grace Yoo as the friend who saves the day, Jacqueline, and the excellent chorus, Christopher Aguilar, Carlos Chang, Jonathan Kim, DT Matias, and Alex Sanchez, do what drag impersonators do so well, and in their own voices, thus keeping the theatricality alive and vibrant. 

The set by Victoria Petrovich is enhanced by the lavish costuming of Anthony Tran (feathers and spangles can go a long way, especially under the star-lighting of Karyn D. Lawrence), and the costume changes are remarkably fast.

If it’s light-hearted entertainment that you’re looking for, without a whole lot of sociological challenges, clocking in at 2.5 hours, then Dang’s production is a fitting send-off for him.  Not his fault that the book is dated and the music and lyrics are, for the most part, acceptable if not great.  But it is fun.  So take it for what it’s worth.

La Cage Aux Folles” plays through June 26th, 2016, at the East/West Players, 120 Judge John Aliso Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012.  Tickets:  213.625.7000 or at www.eastwestplayers.org