ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There is no question that the biggest driver for social change is the media, especially Hollywood movies and television.
Broadway musicals play a part too, of course. In 1983, “La Cage aux Folles” – a musical based on a 1973 French film – premiered on Broadway. More than 30 years before the Supreme Court made gay marriage legal, “La Cage aux Folles” normalized gay marriage for mass consumption.
This once-revolutionary musical is receiving a solid production at Landmark Musicals, anchored in the fine performances of Darby Fegan and Bill Williams as the middle-aged gay couple.
This is the stuff of classic French farce. Georges and Albin have lived together as lovers for 20 years and have together raised Georges’ son, Jean-Michel, who has reluctantly invited his fiancé’s parents over for dinner to meet his dad. Although he loves him, he insists the more effeminate Albin not be there, as his future father-in-law is a strict conservative. Naturally, Albin has other plans, and you can probably guess how he manages to be present when the parents arrive.
If this plot sounds familiar, you may have seen the non-musical Hollywood film version “The Birdcage,” starring the late Robin Williams.
Georges owns a cabaret on the French Riviera, and Albin is the main attraction, Zaza. Written by Jerry Herman (music and lyrics) and Harvey Fierstein (book), the show is framed around the cabaret – with a chorus of drag performers throughout – and Georges is the master of ceremonies.
The ingenious set design by Dahl Delu manages to effortlessly remove the cabaret and roll forward Georges and Albin’s living room, Jacqueline’s restaurant, and a little outdoor café when needed.
The set changes are drastic but never obtrusive, and this extends even to the change of décor in Georges and Albin’s home before the conservative parents arrive. All the homoerotic art is removed and replaced with an enormous cross and other Christian paraphernalia. Unfortunately, they forget about the erotic Greek figures on the china and in all the confusion the dinner burns and they need to go to a restaurant. This and the scene immediately afterward in Jacqueline’s restaurant are probably the funniest in the play, as we would expect when the clash of opposites finally ensues.
Herman wrote the classic musicals “Hello Dolly” and “Mame,” and “La Cage aux Folles” is standard Broadway fare, except for the gender of the romantic pair at the center of the story. There are some catchy tunes beautifully performed by the two leads. Especially powerful is the Act 1 closer, “I Am What I Am,” sung by the dejected Albin after he learns he is not wanted at the all-important meeting. Williams is wonderful throughout.
Fegan, who is normally the Landmark musical director, plays Georges with a knowing archness that seems just right for this character.
The production is directed with finesse by Zane Barker, who very wisely cast his wife, Wendy Barker, in the role of Jacqueline. A singer of great power and range, she is also brilliant in the role of the media-savvy restaurateur who saves the day.
“La Cage aux Folles” is playing through Aug. 12 at the Rodey Theater on UNM Campus. Call 453-8844 or go to landmarkmusicals.org to make a reservation.