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THEATER REVIEW: 'LA CAGE AUX FOLLES' : Cagey Humor : The French farce loses nothing in its translation by the Thousand Oaks Conejo Players.


Jean-Michel and Anne have fallen in love, and her parents want to meet his parents. Anne's father is the leader of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party (think of Sen. Jesse Helms with a beret). Jean-Michel's father, Georges, is not only a theatrical entrepreneur, but a master of ceremonies.

Georges' life partner of 20 years, who performs under the name Zaza, has been in many ways a better mother to Jean-Michel than was the woman who gave birth to him. But how will Anne's father accept not only that Georges' theater, "La Cage aux Folles," features female impersonators, but that "Zaza" offstage is Albin--biologically, if not emotionally, a man?

Such is the premise at the core of "La Cage aux Folles," the 1983 Broadway musical based on an internationally popular 1978 film, itself adapted from a stage play from Jean Poiret.

"La Cage" is the current production of Thousand Oaks' Conejo Players, running through Dec. 15.

For a musical about a theater where music is performed, there isn't a lot of music in "La Cage." Composer-lyricist Jerry Herman, who initiated the project after viewing the film, wrote 10 songs (with a couple of variations) that alternate between production numbers at the theater and dialogue that is sung between or among characters in the show.

The songs are serviceable enough. Herman, after all, wrote "Hello, Dolly!" and "Mame." From this show, "The Best of Times" and "I Am What I Am" have emerged as hits of a sort, the latter as an unofficial anthem of the gay rights movement. But the bulk of the show is dialogue, pure farce adapted by Harvey Fierstein from the French originals.

While the show is still funny--it may be foolproof in that respect--the moves to New York and then Thousand Oaks have removed almost all of the Gallic traces. With the exception of a couple of spoken references and the use of an accordion in the prerecorded musical tracks, the show might as well be set in Oxnard.

Philip Klipa and George Pollard star as Georges and Albin, whose roles constitute the bulk of the show: they are the central characters, with most of the best dialogue and the best songs. Fortunately, both Klipa and Pollard handle their roles with skill, technical expertise and sensitivity--despite all the silliness, you can believe that Georges and Albin truly have been in love for two decades.

Lawrence Faulkner and Thyra Gustafson are saddled with fairly standard, two-dimensional juvenile and ingenue roles, which they carry off with as much aplomb as possible. Todd Becker is a hoot as Jacob, who would rather be a maid than a butler, and who prefers being addressed as "Claudine."

Director Rick Steinberg keeps a rather long show moving briskly; set designers Betsy Henke and John Holroyd make much of relatively little, and Darren Frank's choreography is imaginative and--when appropriate--funny.

Costume designer Mary Lee Hulette seems to have been entrusted with most of the show's budget, which she uses nicely; some of the costumes are really spectacular.

Unfortunately, the pool of men able or willing to be chorines appears to be rather limited in the Conejo Valley. Actors playing the "La Cage" chorus line are identified in the program by first initial and last name, so you'll wonder which are really men, and which are not--they couldn't even get a quorum of males for the production--but you shouldn't have much trouble. This bunch looks more like a road company of "Charley's Aunt" than an elegant female impersonator revue.


"La Cage aux Folles" plays Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8:30 through Dec. 15 at the Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks. There will be Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 18, 25 and Dec. 2. Tickets are $10 for Friday and Saturday night shows, and $8 for the Thursday and Sunday performances. Call (805) 495-3715 for further information.

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