Tuesday, June 7, 2016

La Cage Aux Folles – Book by Harvey Fierstein, Lyrics by Jerry Herman

Center:  Gedde Watanabe, & Cagelles  L - R: Christopher Aguilar, Jonathan Kim, Alex-Sanchez, Carlos Chang, D. T. Matias - Photos by Michael Lamont

By Joe Straw

There is a lot of road construction near the David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center of the Arts. (120 Judge John Aiso Street, in Los Angeles.) So, allow time for traffic disruptions.  Parking is behind the theatre at a reasonable rate of $7.00.  Get there early and you will find dancing and lots of fun stuff both outside and inside the theatre. 

Also, for the caffeine addicts, there’s a Starbucks nearby, north of Little Tokyo. 

Little Tokyo is quaint but, right now, in the theatre it's St. Tropez, France.  – Narrator

La Cage Aux Folles is an exceptional show filled with brilliant moments that stay with you long after you leave the theatre.  It was so incomparable and dazzling in execution that I did not want it to end.

La Cage Aux Folles’ limited run is playing to sell-out houses in this beautiful 250-seat theatre. But, don't be dissuaded.   Pick up the phone, or get online, to order tickets. Everyone should run to see this production for many, many reasons. Run! Run! Run! Because life’s happier moments, as in all things, must come to an end.

Celebrating 50 years, the East West Players Partners with the Los Angeles LBGT and with a generous support from the S. Mark Taper Foundation Endowment presents La Cage Aux Folles, book by Harvey Fierstein and lyrics by Jerry Herman, based on a book by Jean Poiret, directed by Tim Dang at the David Henry Hwang Theatre through June 26, 2016. 

One can only imagine the summers in St. Tropez. Taking the time to view scantily clad bodies frolicking in the surf.  And then, after taking a long afternoon nap, enjoying what San Tropez has to offer in the way of nightlife to cap off the day.  

“Here we are at the pride of St. Tropez, the envy of the cabaret world, the jewel of the Riviera.  What legend has told and rumour has promised we shall do our utmost to deliver.” – Georges


Georges (Jon Jon Briones), a slight man with tasteful affectations, constructs an overview of the night’s presentation. Beyond the long red metallic curtains, the lights and sound of the cabaret band drifts from the top of the stage, and when the curtains open the Cagelles are on the bottom. 

The Cagelles enter, men dressed as women, all strapped in, athletic, and wearing gold unitards.  Their backside are facing the cabaret patrons, each with grand golden wings now spread as they, in high heels, nimbly step back toward the audience.

“We are what we are
And what we are
Is an Illusion” - Cagelles

Georges, the master of ceremonies, takes a moment after the song to introduce the members of the Cagelles.

Chantal (DT Matias) gives her all to sing a colorful coloratura and then proceeds to flit off to regions unknown.

Next is Hanna (Carlos Chang), from Hamburg, manages to control the stage with that nasty bullwhip that fails to “pop” with the first thrust of her arm.  Slightly perturbed, she manages to control the crowd with two quick “cracks” that silences the room.  

Cagelle Phoedra (Christopher Aguilar) is an enigma – which is actually her tongue – as she whips it out and waggles it with such rapidity to make grown men blush.  Followed by Mercedes (Alex Sanchez).

The Cagelle finish singing the song that introduces Zaza (Gedde Watanabe) who, at this time, is nowhere to be found.

Francis (Cesar Cipriano), the stage manager, is in panic mode.  He rushes to get the Cagelles back onstage for an encore to bide time until they find Zaza. The actors are none too thrilled about getting back on stage (typical actors).

Still in panic mode, all available men tush to Zaza’s door only to find Jacob (Allen Lucky Weaver) in full drag ready to take her first steps to becoming the next big star, since Zaza.  

Georges, who has seen it all, thinks Jacob is cute.

“But this season we are not featuring butlers in the revue.” – Georges

“I am no one’s butler.  I am the maid!” - Jacob

There’s some slight confusion, a slight gender bending, over a butler or a maid nomenclature.  But finally the maid confesses to Georges that Albin is upstairs in repose.

When Georges gets there, Albin is upset; well more like an uneasy indignation, that Georges has missed lunch and accuses him of finding another man, one who makes a mockery of their marriage vows.

“It’s all my fault for falling in love with a younger man.”  - Albin

“Darling, please.  I’m only eight years younger.” – Georges

“Five years.” – Albin

“Actually, sixteen.” – Georges

“Alright, eight.” - Albin

Georges sees through his trickery and accuses Albin of wanting to bring out that old rag of a show Salome.  With time running short, Georges will promise anything to get Albin back on stage, and so reluctantly, he gives in to Albin on Salome.

Albin has won and taking a moment, knows the show must go on, Albin magically transforms into the character Zaza, oh so meticulously, this art to have the makeup just right. And with everything perfect Zaza makes her entrance  – seven minutes late – naytheless this is actually a good time for Albin with his history of peculiarities.  

Georges, for the moment, has tranquility, a respite until the next troublesome event. While the show is going on, Jacob, now wearing a pink panther trench coat and sunglasses says he’s got that special visitor stashed in another room.

A young man, Jean-Michel (Jinwoo Jung) steps into the room with a bottle of wine and two wine glasses.  Jean-Michel, presented as a lover, is actually Georges’ son, the product of a dalliance he had with a showgirl twenty something years ago.

Jean-Michel tells Georges that he’s engaged to marry Anne (Audrey Cain).  Her family is coming to visit for cocktails the following night and will stay the night. Because Anne’s father, Edouard Dindon (Michael Hagiwara), is Deputy General of the T.F.M. Party (The Tradition, Family, and Morality Party), Jean-Michel wants to invite his estranged mother, Sybil (not seen) and not have Albin attend. 

Jean-Michel pleads for a normal family, at least for this one time. He devises a plan to clean up their home of their overtly cloistered gay existence, the gay statues and what not. He charms his father Georges, to tell Albin to leave for a short while, while they perpetrate the ruse.  In the meantime, Jean-Michel dreams for some normalcy to make way for the special guests.   

Tim Dang, the director, is masterful in his last directorial stint for the East West Players; he is stepping down after 23 years with this fine organization.  This surprising production is an amalgamation of art successfully blending talent, music direction by Marc Macalintal, and Choreography by Reggie Lee. Dang moves the action with indescribable grandeur.  There are subtle, yet heart wrenching moments that also move the story in unimaginable ways.  Wasting no time and space, Dang also includes some very inventive scene changes. The estaminet scene is beautifully set and feels so French one would believe you were in St. Tropez.  In short, La Cage Aux Folles has the audience laughing, crying, and singing the delightful songs by Jerry Herman on the way out at the end of the night.

Jon Jon Briones

Jon Jon Briones as Georges is one of the finest actors working in America today. The character’s action is subtle at times but manages to grow giving the character a strong emotional core that pushes all the poignant buttons. The one thing you can say about this character, despite his predicaments, is that he is all love. Love for his theatre, his actors, especially for his son and his companion. This is a performance you do not want to miss.  

Gedde Watanabe

There was a silent moment where Gedde Watanabe as Albin had his wig on crooked.  He sat silently on a cube, and watched the action on stage.  And in that precious moment, I couldn’t stop laughing.  It was the look, a funny one from this marvelous actor, and a highlight of an overall wonderful performance.  Watanabe has a fine voice and, in the opening number, he takes his time to put on mascara in a scene that is natural and very inventive.  Watanabe gives life to many characters on this night man, woman, and John Wayne. This is also an exceptional performance.

Jinwoo Jung is also marvelous as Jean-Michel.  His exquisite singing voice hits home and also hits all the right emotional buttons.  There may be more to add with moving his other dad out of the house and seeking forgiveness later on but overall a very touching performance.  

Allen Lucky Weaver is very funny as the butler, maid, or whatever the nomenclature. His performance is surprising, deafly surprising, for an actor who appears out of nowhere to make a remarkable impressions on a Los Angeles stage.

Audrey Cain is as graceful as she is beautiful as Anne. Anne brings the truly feminine being to this cast of mostly males. She is an interesting character that hints that life and love will be all right no matter your persuasion.

Michael Hagiwara as Edouard Dindon and Sharline Liu as Marie Dindon make a perfect husband and wife team as they try to negotiate their way through the mess they’ve got themselves into. The final scenes between them will send you home with a smile on your face.  And I believe they played M. Renaud and Mme. Renaud but were not given credit in the program.

The Cagelles play a lot of interesting roles in this production, singers, dancers, statutes, and neglected actors who feel they are being abused.  The work is outstanding for these supporting roles.  The Cagelles are Christopher Aguilar as Phaedra, Carlos Chang as Hanna, Jonathan Kim as Bitelle, DT Matias as Chantal, and Alex Sanchez as Mercedes.

Grace Yoo does a delightful turn as Jacqueline, the restaurant owner. Yoo has a marvelous powerful voice and is graceful in the execution of the musical numbers she sings. She also plays an old girlfriend to Jean-Michel, someone he doesn’t want to see at this particular moment.  Jacqueline is with her “cousin” Etienne, played by Reuben Uy.

Preshow: Cesar Cipriano, Allen Lucky Weaver, Reuben Uy 

Reuben Uy and Cesar Cipriano play the beach ball dancers. Cipriano is also Francis, the stage manager and Tabarro.

Victoria Petrovich wonderfully creates the Scenic Design. Anthony Tran, Costume Designer, creates an Asian setting in the heart of St. Tropez, France with breathtaking costumes.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Karyn D. Lawrence – Lighting Design
Cricket S. Myers – Sound Design
Ken Takemoto – Prop Master
Ondina V. Dominguez - Stage Manager

The band was fantastic on this night.  They are comprised of Marc Macalintal, Conductor/Keyboard, Richie Gonzaga, Trumpet, Robert Todd, Trombone, Adrienne Geffen, Clarinet, Victor Vedoy, Saxophone and Michael “Weeble” Boerum, Percussion.

This production of La Cage Aux Folles is like a budding flower, awakening, spirited with morning sprinklers, happy to see you on your daybreak walk.  She is a dream of a life, that moment, waiting for you, an old so beautiful memory of times past and times together, a welcoming of the past and present, and in softly rolled petals presented to you live and with love.

Run! Run! Run!  And take someone you love obsequiously.

Reservations:  213-625-7000

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