Arts & Leisure

A lovable, dazzling “La Cage”

“LES CAGELLES” is the dancing troupe in “La Cage Aux Folles (Photos by Ron Lyons).

By Thom deMartino/Orange County Tribune

The things we do for the ones we love.

In a sensational new staging from The Gem Theater, the curtain rises on the fabulous production of “La Cage Aux Folles.”  Starring the Gem’s own director and One MoreProductions co-founder, the illustrious Damien Lorton, “Folles” introduces the audience to the glamour and electricity of the titular nightclub, famed for its expansive and mesmerizing drag shows. as club owner and manager Georges (Robert Edward) struggles to get his dancers on time and on stage for their number, he’s also juggling the temperamental mood of the show’s biggest star, “Zaza”—who’s also the love of his life, Albin (Damien Lorton).

But while the flamboyant prima donna may be caught up in the performance, he has no inkling that Georges is actually expecting a secret guest, one whom he loves deeply: his visiting son Jean-Michel (John Lindahl, with an outstanding freshman showing on the Gem stage.) And yet, though his partner Albin has been more of a mother to the young man than his own biological mom, the young man implores his father not to tell Albin, and implores Georges to do something for him… something unimaginable.

Play straight. Pretend to be someone he’s not. And that’s not even the unkindest cut.

It seems Jean-Michel has fallen head over heels for a young woman (gasp!) named Anne Dindon (Julia Iacopetti) – and plans to introduce his new love interest – and her ultraconservative parents, Edouard and Marie Dindon (Timothy Klega and Nickie Gentry) — to his family. But not without his father hiding his real self and lifestyle… and without the unabashedly flamboyant Albin anywhere in sight.

JULIA Iacopetti as Anne Dindon, Nickie Gentry as Marie Dindon and Damien as Albin (pretending to be Jean-Michel’s mother).

The smitten lad has fed Anne’s family a line that his father is a retired diplomat –something that should appease the values of her politician father, head of the “Tradition, Family and Morality Party” –  who is attempting to close down the “dens of sin” that he considers the local drag clubs to be. And while all this is antithetical to everything Jean-Michel’s father is, believes in… Georges hesitantly agrees, willing to do anything for his son’s happiness.

But might his love for his son cost him his relationship with his beloved Albin? For as much uproar and sensationalism that’s been seen of late in media about it, drag performance has been around for millennia: even in Shakespearian times, it was customary for men to play the female roles in productions, as women in those times were not permitted to perform on stage (see “Shakespeare In Love” for examples.) “Folles” is a celebration, not only of this performance art form, but of those marginalized individuals who find their voice and true selves through it.

If the plot seems familiar to you, you’re right: “Folles” is based off a popular 1978 French film, which was in turn inspired by a 1973 comedy. (It may also have been adapted again in some other non-musical form… perhaps an American film with a couple of comedy icons.)

As if the colorful, thundering choreography of the dance numbers by the entire troupe isn’t remarkable enough (a lion’s share of the credit due for the show’s contagious energy is thanks to Le Cage’s “Les Cagelles.” including Jack Janowicz, Edvan Galvan, Hunter Nelson,

Brian Bolanos, Liandra Benoit, Kady Lawson and the welcome return of Ms. Stephanie Zellhoefer), but musical numbers such as “We Are What We Are” embody both the celebration of being oneself and the defiance to resist the societal push to limit and be labeled, rather than define who you are, yourself.

An unsung hero in the show is Wyatt Buckle as the stage manager Francis, who seems entertainingly and increasingly worse-for-wear (if still smitten) for his relationship with the lovely (if nearly lethal) bullwhip-wielding Cagelle, Hanna (the consistantly fantastic and flamboyant Matthew Rangel).

Regulars to the theater should be well-familiar with the marvelous Peter Crisafulli as a comedic staple of the Gem, but his performance in “Folles” takes it to new levels with not only his over-the-top antics as Georges’ butler – sorry, maid – Jacob, but with his delightfully deadpan delivery of some of his best lines… some of which may be drowned out by the overwhelming laughter of the audience at his hijinks.

And while Edward’s Georges, with his flawless delivery and timing may be the charming anchor of the show, the hub around which the piece revolves is without question Lorton’s Albin.

With a personality that demands the attention of any room he’s in, and a wardrobe to die for (there are nearly 600 costume pieces in this show!), Albin is not only the centerpiece of La Cage’s productions, but the heart of this one. While viewers may thrill and guffaw at some of his over-the-top antics, it’s really in the quiet, muted moments of emotion when we see the vulnerable, unguarded Albin that Lorton takes his character to heartbreaking and deeply moving depths.

A celebration of being who you truly are, against all odds, “Le Cage Aux Folles” is a dazzling production with stunning dance numbers, breathtaking costumes and captivating performances. Come join this gorgeous jubilee, and enjoy.

“LaLa Cage Aux Folles” stars Damien Lorton, Robert Edward and Peter Crisafulli star in this story of what a father is willing to do – and disguise – for the love of his son. Playing through Sept. 17 at The Gem Theater 12852 Main St., Garden Grove.. Call (714) 741- 9550 x221 or email for ticketing information. Some mature content and language.

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