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“La Cage aux Folles”

Goodspeed Opera House

The scintillating and immensely enjoyable production of “La Cage aux Folles” currently on view at the Goodspeed Opera House is a testament to the fact that this 1983 musical will always be a crowd-pleaser. With a book by Harvey Fierstein and a score by Jerry Herman, this show is a real joy from beginning to end. I have seen many productions of “La Cage” over the years (including both Broadway revivals) and I have to confess that this musical has never seemed as delicious as it is in this current staging at the Goodspeed Opera House, under the ideal direction of the estimable Rob Ruggiero. With dazzling costumes by Michael McDonald and wonderful set design by Michael Schweikardt, this production looks so luscious that you almost want to have it for dessert.

This current staging of “La Cage” also features a dynamite company of actors, including an especially grand and glorious performance by Jamison Stern as the character of Albin. Still, from top to bottom, this cast shines, so everyone works on the same high level. For a laughter-filled, melodic, and spectacular evening of theatre, I doubt that you could do better than Goodspeed Opera House’s production of “La Cage aux Folles.”

What makes this production of “La Cage aux Folles” such a winner is that it is both lavishly staged and also blessed with a flawless cast. Indeed, any “La Cage aux Folles” will rise or fall with its casting of the leading characters of Georges and Albin, so the Goodspeed Opera House is very fortunate to have two superb actors in these roles. As nightclub owner Georges, James Lloyd Reynolds is fittingly handsome and commanding, as well as being a terrific singer, particularly in his gorgeous solo, “Song on the Sand.” He also proves to be the perfect “straight man” (so to speak) to the showier character of Albin.

In the role that won George Hearn a Tony Award, Jamison Stern is pretty great as Albin, both in and out of the spectacular gowns he wears as his onstage character of “Zaza.” When this actor is decked out in drag, he is sparkling, especially as he manages to work the crowd during the title number. This actor also shines in his opening solo, “A Little More Mascara” and then finishes the first act off with a searing, thrillingly sung “I Am What I Am.” If I had one complaint about his performance it is that Jamison Stern is allowed to do imitations of such stars as Eartha Kitt, Marlene Dietrich, and Barbra Streisand. Believe me, this actor is more than fabulous enough without having to evoke any past or present divas.

Happily, the rest of the cast manages to match the excellence of the two leading actors. Conor Ryan is a terrific Jean-Michel, singing the reprise of “Look Over There” in Act II wonderfully well. Also notable are Jean-Michel’s soon-to-be-wife Anne (a lovely Kristen Martin), Sue Mathys as restaurant owner Jacqueline, and even Wade Dooley wins laughs as the put-upon stage manager in love with the “dangerous” stage performer, Hanna (a sizzling Alex Ringler).

This brings us quite fittingly to the sensational chorus dancers, “The Notorious Cagelles,” who are uniformly amazing (and gorgeous). Choreographer Ralph Perkins has supplied astonishing dances that truly show off what these performers can do. Still, I must mention that there is some grand larceny going on in this production: a scene-stealer named Cedric Leiba, Jr., who plays Albin’s “maid” Jacob. Rarely have I seen an actor take charge in such a relatively small role, continually stopping the show with his hilarious line-readings and gloriously funny acting, and I must mention that, at the performance I was at, Cedric Leiba, Jr. got the biggest ovation at the curtain call.

Jerry Herman’s wonderful score sounds great as played by the grand orchestra, under the musical direction of Michael O’Flaherty, and sung by this marvelous company of actors. Also, director Rob Ruggiero’s staging and pacing of the show is pitch perfect, keeping the show aloft even during some of the potentially weaker moments towards the end of the show. Indeed, Goodspeed Opera House’s “La Cage aux Folles” must be considered a triumph for everyone involved, mixing superlative acting and emotion with luxurious style and flair from beginning to end. This “La Cage aux Folles” truly has its cake and eats it, too, and you will relish every bite.

“La Cage aux Folles” continues performances at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT through September 6, 2015. For tickets, please visit http://www.goodspeed.org or call the box office at (860) 873-8668.

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