Chicago Theatre Review
Bring on the Girls
La Cage aux Folles – Marriott Theatre
The glitz and glamor of St. Tropez, with all its sparkle and shine, stars in sequins and feather boas and talented chorines in drag, almost takes a back seat to this warmhearted tale about an unconventional family who love and support each other through thick and thin. The story of Georges and Albin, their son Jean-Michel and his determination to impress his bride-to-be and his future, ultra conservative in-laws, is a story that overflows with love and devotion. All the rest is sweet icing on le gateau.
It’s hard to believe that Jerry Herman’s beloved classic has been around since 1983, revived twice on Broadway in 2004 and again in 2010, with all of these productions earning multiple awards. It’s the only Broadway show to have won the Tony and Drama Desk for Best Musical for both the original production, as well as for the two revivals. This zesty, tune-filled musical is so beloved the world over and has played almost everywhere. Jerry Herman’s gorgeous score and Harvey Fierstein’s family-friendly libretto just barely pushes the envelope. As one of the first mainstream theatrical productions to feature a happily married gay couple, this show was way ahead of its time. Now that gay marriage has become more accepted and is law for the majority of the country, as well as internationally, one of this musical’s greatest accomplishments is to reinforce the similarity between gay and straight parents. Raising a child is raising a child, and it affords the same challenges and problems for everyone.
Joe Leonardo returns to Lincolnshire to stage a show he first directed here in 1994. He likens this experience to reuniting with an old friend. Indeed, theatergoers already familiar with Jerry Herman’s delectable musical treat will feel the same way. But this time around, Mr. Leonardo has chosen to feature the glimmering showmanship of the titular nightclub as secondary story to his production, in favor of highlighting the love and affection shared by these two middle-aged men. The couple’s unflagging affection for their young son is first and foremost in a story about a family and their love and respect for one another.
David Hess, who Marriott audiences will remember for his Jeff Award-winning portrayal of Charlie in “Shenandoah,” is magnificent as Georges. Close your eyes and Mr. Hess sounds very much like the late Robert Preston when speaking; when singing, however, he possesses the voice of an angel. His musical highlights include “With You on My Arm,” “Song On the Sand” and the lovely “Look Over There.” Hopefully, with a bit more time spent in this role, Mr. Hess will loosen up and soften his persona in his scenes with Albin/Zaza. On opening night, Georges exhibits just a bit too much of the showman in his more intimate scenes with the love of his life.
With an awe-inspiring resume filled with varied roles, like the Wizard in “Wicked” and Signor Naccarelli in “Light in the Piazza,” Gene Weygandt truly stretches his theatrical muscles here. Playing the parent of a young son and an outgoing gay man, who also happens to be a flamboyant female impersonator named Zaza, would seem a challenge for this man’s man. However, throughout the musical, there’s a wonderfully sincere warmth and honesty that radiates from Mr. Weygandt, particularly in his scenes with Mr. Hess and with Brian Bohr, who’s absolute perfection as Jean-Michel. Weygandt is always firmly in control, and his rendition of the title song, “A Little More Mascara” and the infectious and toe-tapping “The Best of Times” is solid and layered. However, Mr. Weygandt’s most impressive musical moment comes at the end of Act I, with his pained, soulful vocal interpretation of “I Am What I Am.” Defiantly ripping off his wig and hurling it at Georges, Albin proudly storms off the stage and up the aisle, leaving audiences to wonder if the indignation and betrayal he’s suffered has finally severed this couple’s relationship.
A talented ensemble of triple-threats support the performances of these two leading men. As previously mentioned, one of Chicago’s finest handsome, young leading men, Brian Bohr, is sensational as Jean-Michel, who sings like a dream in his “With Anne on My Arm” and a poignant reprise of “Look Over There.” Susan Moniz has never looked or sounded more beautiful and sexy than in the featured role of restauranteur and socialite, Jacqueline. Fred Zimmerman, Anne Gunn and Elizabeth Telford are excellent as M. Dindon, his much-censored wife and his daughter Anne, who’s also the apple of Jean-Michel’s eye. Joseph Anthony Byrd is hilarious, memorable and majorly chiseled as the couple’s gay butler/maid Jacob. And, of course, the amazing chorus of Les Cagelles are all beautiful and perform with athletic choreographic skill. They include the multitalented J Tyler Whitmer, Raymond Interior, Adam Estes, Jordan Fife-Hunt, Clayton Cross, Zachary L. Gray and Jhardon DiShon Milton.
Ryan T. Nelson has carefully musically directed this production, led by Patti Garwood’s talented pit orchestra. The technical artistry that gives support to Mr. Leonardo’s excellent production includes Thomas M. Ryan’s kitschy-but-elegant set, warmly festooned with giant framed mirrors, birdcages and chandeliers; Nancy Missimi’s stunningly beautiful costumes, all feathers, sequins and spandex (the opening number is unbelievable); and Jesse Klug’s sizzling hot lighting that brings us both the romantic mood of the Riviera beach, as well as the razzle dazzle of the nightclub.
This is one hot production that’s not only stunning in its showmanship, but equally warm and touching in its depiction of a family filled with love and respect. To escape the bitter Chicago cold, head to Lincolnshire for an evening of romance and glitz along the St. Tropez beach. There’s memorable music, exciting choreography by Melissa Zaremba, executed by an ensemble of unbelievably talented performers and a story bound to heat up the midwestern winter night. It’s time to bring on the girls!
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 4-March 22 by The Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the Marriott theatre box office at 847-634-0200 or go to www.MarriottTheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.