My 2015 Rochester Fringe experience began with sequins, high heels, and wigs a-plenty when I took in RAPA's production of "La Cage Aux Folles" (helpful pronunciation tip: it sounds like "La Cahhge ah Fall") on the School of the Arts' Allen Main Stage.
Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein's Tony Award-winning musical is based on Jean Poiret's original 1973 play. The French farce was also adapted into a film in 1978, which in turn inspired two sequels and a popular American remake in 1996 (you know it as "The Birdcage," starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane). The musical is being performed for the first time in Rochester in 22 years, according to director Eric Vaughn Johnson.
The title "La Cage Aux Folles" comes from the name of a nightclub on the French Riviera run by Georges (Roy Wise, playing the not-so-straight man), which offers drag cabaret performances starring his longtime partner Albin (Billy DeMetsenaere). Georges' biological son -- the result of a one-night stand with a showgirl -- Jean-Michel (Kyle Critelli, going a long way in making his bratty character seem bearable) returns home to announce that he's getting married. He was raised by Georges and Albin, and wants them to meet his fiancée, Anne (Ariana Rivera), but her father happens to be an ultra-conservative politician who claims to uphold traditional family values. It seems clear that their flagrantly nontraditional lifestyles just won't do, and so Jean-Michel begs them to pretend to be a "normal" family just for one night. Needless to say, things do not go according to plan.
Both the French and American film adaptations built to a hilariously screwball sequence centered around the chaotic dinner at Georges' and Albin's home, so audience members used to those versions may be in for a surprise (as I was) to find that the original play and musical versions take an ever-so-slightly different course. You could have knocked me over with a feather boa when, shortly after things devolve, Albin declares that they will be dining out for the evening.
With the character's hysterical theatricality, the role of Albin is one that all but begs its performer to chew the scenery, and Vaughn Johnson's lively production rightfully allows DeMetsenaere's marvelous performance to take center stage. His Albin is one-of-a-kind and makes no apologies for who he is. He perfectly encapsulates the show's ultimate message that, though we may try to hide it, ultimately there's no escaping that "We Are What We Are."
"La Cage Aux Folles" will be performed again on Saturday, September 19, 8 p.m.; Sunday, September 20, 7 p.m.; Tuesday, September 22, 7 p.m.; Wednesday, September 23, 7 p.m.; and Saturday, September 26, 8 p.m. at the School of the Arts Allen Main Stage. $22-$25.