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Theater Review

Saddleback Comes Up With a Costumed Ball

Troupe fashions an entertaining and robust 'La Cage aux Folles.' The three leads and staging keep piece from being just a giddy romp.

July 06, 1999|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"La Cage aux Folles" is always an eyeful, from the usually spectacular costumes to the Ziegfeld-style dance numbers. But the core of the show is the very personal story, albeit also very funny, of the relationship between Georges and Albin, and the announcement that Georges' son, Jean-Michel, is engaged.

The problem is that Georges and Albin are homosexual lovers, and the fact that Albin (a famous and successful drag queen) has been a mother to Jean-Michel since he was 4 won't sit well in the eyes of his fiancee's father, a priggish do-gooder.

The latest revival by Saddleback Civic Light Opera in Mission Viejo is a pretty by-the-book affair, but the performances of the three leads, and director Beth Hanson's robust staging, retain enough of the honest subtext between them to keep it from being a giddy costume parade.

The musical itself can come across as overly campy as written by Harvey Fierstein ("Torch Song Trilogy"). Jean Poiret soft-pedaled the camp in his original play and the French film version. Then there is composer Jerry Herman, of whom a critic once said doesn't write songs, he writes anthems. He keeps the camp going in his score, but does contribute one fine ballad for Albin to make his statement about his lifestyle, the first act finale "I Am What I Am."

In this production, however, Jeff Paul's Georges is played with a marvelous sense of humor, even when he realizes that Jean-Michel's request that Albin be out of sight when his fiancee's parents visit has thrown Albin into an emotional black hole. It's a heartfelt and honest performance, as is Lance Phillips' Albin, though Phillips' tendency to broad physical comedy (in addition to his drag numbers) is overdone at moments. Their stage relationship is real and effective.

Geoffrey J. Going is their son Jean-Michel, and the simplicity of his performance brings a good balance to the staging. Going never lets the audience believe he really is embarrassed about Albin's profession and personality, proven by the sincerity of his about-face later when the family situation is no longer a secret.

Eric Davenport, out-camping Albin at every turn, is often very funny as Jacob, whom Georges hired as a butler, though Jacob insists he is their maid. Noelle Bird is charming as the fiancee Anne. As Anne's uptight parents, Robb Tracy and Tisha Bellantuoni are good, but he overdoes the priggishness unnecessarily, and she downplays her attraction to the madness to afault.

As always, musical director Lee Kreter makes his musicians sound very much like a Broadway pit band, and the all-male drag chorus line, Les Cagelles, from Georges and Albin's nightclub "La Cage aux Folles," are expert and look as if they're having a ball, which is half the game in this show.

* "La Cage aux Folles," McKinney Theatre, Saddleback College, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. Thursdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends July 18. $22. (949) 582-4656. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.

Jeff PaulGeorges

Lance PhillipsAlbin

Geoffrey J. GoingJean-Michel

Eric DavenportJacob

Noelle BirdAnne

Robb TracyEdouard Dindon

Tisha BellantuoniMadame Dindon

A Saddleback Civic Light Opera production of the Harvey Fierstein-Jerry Herman musical. Producer: Geofrey L. English. Director: Beth Hansen. Musical direction: Lee Kreter. Choreography: Roger Castellano. Scenic design: Ken Holaman (American Musical Theatre of San Jose). Lighting design: Kevin Cool. Sound design: Stephan Jonas. Costume design: Pamela Johnson Gill (the Theatre Company, Upland). Stage manager: Teresa Mollindo White.

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