‘La Cage’ is all about family

By on July 29, 2015

Sadly, my relationship with EPAC has become a distant one over the summer. I missed “The Odd Couple” in June because I was on vacation. After being a part of EPAC’s Center Stage Summer Theater Camp for five years in a row, my daughter missed camp completely due to our travel-filled summer plans. So, with anxious fervor I decided to take my daughter to the opening of “La Cage aux Folles” Thursday, July 23.

This decision was not made without some trepidation; is this show appropriate for a preteen audience? I looked for counsel with friends and on theater-based chat boards online. The cumulative answer: ultimately, this show is about family; yes, there are scantily dressed men in drag and a couple morsels of sexual innuendo, but family and acceptance are the running themes in “La Cage aux Folles.” We headed out the door for a daddy-daughter night, grabbed a bite at a restaurant, and attempted to salvage our summer void of theater.

Red light basks over sheer cloth as we meet the Cagelles during the opening number, “We Are What We Are.” “We are what we are / And what we are is an illusion / We love how it feels / Putting on heels, causing confusion,” sing the group, primarily consisting of men dressed as ladies.

We are in the nightclub La Cage aux Folles and after an introduction by George (Ken Seigh), club owner and compère, we expect to meet Zaza, the venues premiere performer. She runs habitually late. Zaza is the drag stage name of Albin (Ed Fernandez), who is also George’s life partner. Prior to their relationship, George had a heterosexual tryst, which resulted in a son — who was raised by George and Albin — named Jean-Michel (Sean Deffley). Jean-Michel has returned home to introduce his parents to Anne (Sydne Lyons), his new fiancé. Problems arise when Jean-Michel announces his girlfriend’s parents are Edouard (Larry Gessler) and Marie Dindon (Suzanne Delahunt), stout conservatives bent on shutting down clubs like La Cage aux Folles. In fact, the Dindon’s are coming to visit and Jean-Michel suddenly wants Albin, and all his homosexual propensities, to disappear. This, of course, shatters Albin who has served as a mother figure for Jen-Michel and is highlighted in the second act by the musical number “Look Over There.”

The second act was by far the best part of EPAC’s “La Cage aux Folles.” The raucous “Cocktail Counterpoint” features the Dindon’s, Jean-Michel, Georges, Anne, and Jacob (the butler/maid played by Irving Gonzalez) in a hilarious cat-and-mouse game with questionable dinnerware. The Sharadin Bigler theater audience roared with laughter.

There is no one actor who stole the show, but if I was forced to make a choice I’d lean towards the comedic antics portrayed by Gonzalez as Jacob. Jacob, who prefers to be called the maid, also serves as Albin’s personal assistant and longs to be an animal-print clad performer on the La Cage stage. (SPOILER: he ultimately gets his wish.) Gonzalez delivers perfect quips of wit while switching from snarky to flirtatious in an instant as Jacob becomes the tension-easing farceur.

Despite the sequins and the racy themes, at the heart of it all, EPAC’s “La Cage aux Folles” is about family and acceptance. Starring in the show are (left to right) James Barksdale, Ed Fernandez, and Michael Duschl. (Photo by Marty Heisey/LNP)

Despite the sequins and the racy themes, at the heart of it all, EPAC’s “La Cage aux Folles” is about family and acceptance. Starring in the show are (left to right) James Barksdale, Ed Fernandez, and Michael Duschl. (Photo by Marty Heisey/LNP)

Again, no one actor stole the show. Seigh, last seen on the EPAC stage in “August Osage County,” demonstrates his attention to detailed delivery and incredible vocal abilities in “Song on the Sand.” He sings with incredible passion. Fernandez excels during the opening number of Act 2, “Masculinity,” when Albin is tasked with performing his toughest portrayal — a manly man. Fernandez also did well weathering a storm of microphone problems and wardrobe malfunctions a la Janet Jackson at Super Bowl XXXVIII. I should also give a big shout out to the Cagelles: Alex Weaver, JP Welliver, Michael Duschl, Alyse Dilts, Heather Bounds, and James Barksdale for their incredible dancing and singing (under the choreography of Irving Gonzalez).

Once again, EPAC has brought the quality and craftsmanship of a Broadway show to Ephrata. Incredibly beautiful and highly detailed costumes (designer Kate Willman) appeared throughout the show (especially during the “Finale”) and the behind the scenes staff (wardrobe supervisor Jennifer Farrington) made enough successful costume changes — especially to Albin — to make my head spin.

“La Cage aux Folles” is directed by EPAC regular Rich Repkoe. Repkoe has worked with EPAC since 1992 and last directed “The Glass Menagerie” in 2013. Zach Smith serves as music director over a six-piece orchestra, providing music and a few punchlines for the show.

I ran into Gonzalez at the after-party sponsored by The Hill Thursday night. He did not look nearly as worn out as I expected. You see, besides acting as Jacob and choreographing the entire show, Irving also runs the summer theater camp. I expected him to look more zombie-esque after opening night. He was surprised and delighted to see my daughter; having worked with her for years he knew she had the maturity to handle the subject matter of “La Cage aux Folles.”

Is this show appropriate for a preteen audience? I would say not every child, but my daughter loved it. The Cagelles were her favorite feature of the show. Many of the jokes with sexual implications will go over most kids’ heads and like I learned prior to the show, the main themes are family and acceptance. In “La Cage aux Folles” EPAC presents an extravagant show sprinkled with enchanting humor, touching refrains, and a wonderfully pleasant narrative.

Michael C. Upton works as a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure, covering subjects ranging from funk punk to fine wine. He invites your comments and suggestions at facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.

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