Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Tag Archives: Steven Biggs

“La Cage Aux Folles” Offers Laughs and Lessons at Candlelight Pavilion

Members of the chorus of Candlelight Pavilion's production of the Tony-winning, ground-breaking musical "La Cage Aux Folles" kick up their heels.

Members of the chorus of Candlelight Pavilion’s production of the Tony-winning, ground-breaking musical “La Cage Aux Folles” kick up their heels.

In 1983 a new Broadway musical splashed upon the scene. Based on a play which had inspired an equally delightful French comic film, “La Cage Aux Folles” offered up a combination of traditionally melodic show tunes thanks to Jerry Herman (of “Hello Dolly” fame), and a script by Harvey Fierstein which – like his “Torch Song Trilogy” the year before – pushed the envelope of what a production on Broadway could be about. It won Tonys for both Herman and Fierstein, as well as for direction, best actor and Best Musical. In the process it offered up, as Herman put it, a good “old fashioned entertainment” that made the story of love and expectation in the setting of a drag club more charming and accessible to a wide audience.

Now at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont, “La Cage…” speaks to a new age with the same combination of charm, humor and acceptance. How fascinating it is to see how little the show has aged in the 34 years since its premiere. Indeed, much of what was said then still needs saying today, even in the guise of sweet entertainment.

The tale is clever and funny. The practical Georges runs and emcees a famed nightclub in St Tropez called La Cage Aux Folles. His highly dramatic longtime partner, Albin, morphs into the celebrated ZsaZsa, star of the club’s show, backed by a cast of impressive drag queen singer-dancers. Together Georges and Albin have raised Georges’ son – the result of a startling one-night-stand – and now that son, Jean-Michel, has returned home to tell the couple that he is engaged to be married. The only problem: the girl he loves is the daughter of an extreme right-wing politician bent on a return to “traditional morality.” Worse, this potential father-in-law and his wife want to come meet Jean-Michel’s family, inspiring the young man to request the presence of his completely absentee biological mother, and to try to push Albin out of the scene. When his mother never shows, Albin steps in, and the comedy increases.

If this sounds familiar, perhaps it is because the musical, and the play and film that inspired it, in turn inspired the 1996 Robin Williams film “The Birdcage”.

At Candlelight, director-choreographer Roger Castellano has collected a solid cast, allowing the appeal of the show to shine as it should. John LaLonde takes command as the elegant Georges, even funnier in his attempts to appear stereotypically “manly” at times. Adam Trent makes Jean-Michel likable, allowing the potentially terrible hurt he inflicts upon Albin to feel more a matter of desperation than rejection. As Jacob, Albin’s “maid” and personal assistant, Bryan Martinez proves a howl, being as overt as his employers are trying to be subtle. The balance works tremendously well. Likewise, Orlando Montes’ solid stage manager offers yet another view of the club’s unique world.

Steven Biggs comes off just as intolerable as one would expect a character leading the “Tradition, Family and Morality Party” would be, balanced well by Lisa Dyson as his initially mousy wife finding a voice for herself in the rarified air of La Cage’s world. Daniel Reyes and Rachel McLaughlan make lovely work of the cafe owners who have known Georges and Albin as neighbors for years. Emma Nosal creates in Anne, Jean-Michel’s love interest, an attractive contradiction: loving her parents, but increasingly leaning toward the world Jean-Michel sees. Karla Franko gives restauranteur Jacqueline a flair which blends well with Albin’s ZsaZsa.

Chuck Ketter's Albin invites you to "see life from a different angle" in La Cage Aux Folles

Chuck Ketter’s Albin invites you to “see life from a different angle” in La Cage Aux Folles

Still, much of the show rests firmly on the shoulders of Chuck Ketter’s Albin. It’s trickier than one might think, playing both a gay man, albeit a proudly effeminate one, and becoming a convincingly female character when called upon. In this, Ketter shines, though his singing voice sometimes lacks the power of LaLonde’s. Still, when it counts – the iconic, angry “I Am What I Am” which closes the first act – he shines, making the song the anthem it should be. And all of this is backed by eight chorus boys in convincing drag, who sing and dance with conviction.

The end result proves most satisfying. In “La Cage Aux Folles” the laughter is silliness and friendly recognition, the hurts are universal, and the denouement a victory for love in general. The songs, as Herman said upon receiving the Tony, are “simple, hummable show tunes” and just as fun as that sounds. The moment of righteousness which is “I Am What I Am” will move a stone to tears. In short, if you’ve never seen “La Cage…” this is a good opportunity to catch up, and to do so with the added benefit of a lovely dinner beforehand. Go take a look.

What: “La Cage Aux Folles” When: through October 8, doors open 6 p.m. for dinner Fridays and Saturdays, as well as Thursday September 29 and October 6; doors open 11 a.m. for lunch Saturdays and Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: adults $58 – $73, children $30-$35 meal inclusive Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

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“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” – Solid rendition, dated content

The do-gooders rally to ruin The Chicken Ranch (aka The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) at Candlelight Pavilion

The do-gooders rally to ruin The Chicken Ranch (aka The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) at Candlelight Pavilion

It’s not the first place you think of to host the silly, but somewhat risque 1970s musical “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” but the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre in Claremont has made reputation recently for redefining the material such an institution will provide. Hot on the heels of “The Full Monty” and “Sweeney Todd,” their stage now hosts a ladies of a house of ill repute, a chorus of randy football players, and a live country band.

Actually, that batch of live musicians is the most innovative choice. With the exception of concert-like or tribute programs, Candlelight Pavilion usually uses the pre-recorded material now available for musicals on small stages. The in-house band, headed by musical director Douglas Austin, gives an immediacy to everything which proves surprisingly satisfying.

The production itself, directed and choreographed by John Vaughan, has style and pizzazz, and just enough titillation to bring that “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” factor one expects from a musical about such a topic. The performers are earnest to excellent. Still, one of the things which jumps out at the audience the most is how far we have come in our sensibilities since the 1970s. The thing isn’t played like a period piece, but it is one.

Lisa Layne does a solid job with the practical, but caring madam, Miss Mona. She has the voice for country music, and her performance does much to hold the show together. Steven Biggs’ friendly country sheriff makes a nice balance to Layne, offering tinges of middle-aged romance in the midst of the rest. Rashonda Johnson delivers another show-stopping performance as the house’s maid.

Indeed, all of the cast are enthusiastic and the energy is consistently strong. The singer/dancers who form the ensemble of “girls” and their paying customers dance well. The only slight disappointment comes from the comparatively quiet rendition of “The Aggie Song” – normally one of the most testosterone-laden shout-outs in modern musicals. Jeremy Magouirk makes fun work of the righteous investigator who threatens the house’s existence, and David Aldrete has fun with a stereotypical Texas politician or two.

Still, despite a script offers a view of women, and of prostitution, which is increasingly old fashioned. When the sheriff argues the economic plus to having this industry near town, it just isn’t as funny as it was when I first saw it in 1979, and not because it isn’t well presented.

So, the Candlelight Pavilion production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” is not for children. It’ just graphic enough – at least in implication – to leave younger kids with some awkward questions at the table. It is, however, quite well done, filled with entertaining dance numbers and considerable humor. Placed in its own time period, it becomes a humorous counter-argument to the women’s movement. Placed in our own, it jars a bit with how far many feel we’ve come in the past 35-40 years.

What: “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” When: Through February 2, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. on Sundays, and 11 a.m. for Saturday and Sunday matinees Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: meal inclusive, $53-$68 adults, $25 children under 12 Info: (909) 626-1254 ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

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