Theater review: ‘We Are What We Are’ | VailDaily.com
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Theater review: ‘We Are What We Are’

Alex Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily"La Cage aux Folles," a musical comedy, is playing at the Arvada Center through Dec. 23.
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ARVADA, COLORADO ” Men in drag is, OK, pretty much always funny. And the “I-gotta-be-me” story line is a stalwart right up there with star-crossed lovers. But it’s hard to think of a show that takes these two staples more to their extremes than “La Cage aux Folles,” now playing at the Arvada Center.

This is the show that hit the mainstream a decade or so ago in the film “The Birdcage” with Nathan Lane and Robin Williams. The musical’s premise involves a transvestite nightclub on the Riviera, an aging drag queen, Albin, his partner, Georges, and their son, Jean-Michael, who arrives home to announce that he’s engaged to something like the French equivalent of James Dobson. The future-in laws want to meet the boy’s parents, of course, and they’re coming to have dinner and spend the night in the home of Georges and Albin.

That Georges and Albin are a gay couple is tricky enough, but their apartment is actually attached to the notorious night club, and it’s filled with alarming trappings like nude, male statuary, frilly furniture and a “maid” who is male, black and prone to wearing leather with his tiny apron (the excellent Milton Craig Nealy).

What to do? The first thing Jean-Michael wants is for Mom (that’d be Albin) to skip the meeting altogether in favor of his long-absent biological mother. Georges, at least, can act straight whereas Albin is unlikely to give up his mincing walk, his floppy hats and high-pitched exclamations.

Setting all this up, we’re treated to several musical numbers at the club. The Arvada Center took on a large, complex production here with a big cast, pit band, elaborate sets and enough sequins and feathers in the costumes to reach to the moon and back. The big numbers feature a full-fledged chorus line, with a mix of real women and men in drag that will have you guessing (as the first song suggests) as to the genders of them all.

Albin ” who’s the kind of performer Georges must beg nightly to come on stage as he sulks in his dressing room ” is not at all pleased to hear that he’s being excommunicated from the family for a night. Played marvelously by Stephen Day, Albin is completely over the top, yet allows enough of his core feelings to come through that we can’t help but empathize with him. As the chipper, long-suffering Georges, Michael E. Gold, isn’t quite Day’s match but nonetheless does a nice job in what’s become known as “the Nathan Lane role.”

Albin, of course, will not be left out, and accepts Georges’ suggestion that he show up as “Uncle Al,” which inspires some funny bits where Albin must try to assume the affectations of a real man. When the in-laws finally show up (to an apartment that’s been decorated with crucifixes and other ecumenical doo-dads by Jean-Michael), out comes the “I Love Lucy” playbook and Albin reappears in drag as Mom. His ultimate outing and subsequent outrage makes up the rest of the show, with the expected apologies and realizations that, hey, Albin is Albin and he loves Jean-Michael as his son so … it’s all good.

“La Cage aux Folles” is indeed a very gay show that was a bit of a stunner when it hit Broadway in 1983. It’s interesting to see the normally staid and older audience at the Arvada Center embrace it with a standing ovation on opening night ” a sure sign that the “moral majority” isn’t what it was in the ’80s and that perhaps some progress has been made since then. At the same time, this is a very well done production that’s worth the trip down the mountain.

Managing editor Alex Miller can be reached at 748-2920 or amiller@vaildaily.com.


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