Monsieur Farmer est Incroyable dans La Cage aux Folles!

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Zachary Allen Farmer as Albin/Zaza, in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, New Line Theatre, 2019. Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.

The bad boy of musical theatre, St. Louis' New Line Theatre doesn't shy away from edgy material. They also perform musical classics, uncovering the fundamental truth of a given production that sometimes gets buried after years of revivals and reinterpretations. 

La Cage aux Folles, which unfortunately closes before I'll get this review posted, is a modern classic, perhaps not entirely lost to interpretations but certainly well within New Line Theatre's wheelhouse. Based on a play penned by French playwright Jean Poiret, the original Broadway production was a big winner at the 1983 Tony Awards and has been a fan favorite ever since. Some readers may be more familiar with the American non-musical movie version of this story, The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman and a career-launching effort by Hank Azaria. The Harvey Fierstein (book) and Jerry Herman (music and lyrics) tale of drag queens, same and opposite sex relationships and moral authority is encapsulated by one of the first lines of the show: "We are what we are, and what we are is an illusion."

Georges (Robert Doyle) hosts La Cage aux Folles the premiere drag queen revue in Saint-Tropez on the French Riveria. His star performer Zaza is also his significant other, Albin (Zachary Allen Farmer). Georges has a son, Jean-Michel, (Kevin Corpuz) who intends to marry the daughter of super-conservative politician M. Dindon (Kent Coffel). Jean-Michel invites his fiancé's family to meet his parents, having assured the Dindons that he comes from a traditional heterosexual family arrangement. This sets off a series of actions and reactions as Jean-Michel attempts to disguise his flamboyant family with one failed illusion after another. As with most musicals, the leading characters come to a revelatory moment, the antagonist gets his comeuppance, and the audience goes home happy.

I've covered Zachary Allen Farmer for a decade, and he's been hilarious, stoic, zany, and creepy from role to role. He has perhaps never been better than he was in La Cage aux Folles. As Albin/Zaza, he runs a complex emotional gamut. Adjectives such as dramatic, sympathetic, comedic, vulnerable, and heroic are equally applicable at various points. Magnifique, Monsieur Farmer! I'm sure the St. Louis Theatre Circle had already put you on the short list for Best Actor in a Musical when they vote for next year's awards! 

Jean-Michel is a character you kind of want to smack for the Hell he puts his family through, and Kevin Corpuz was perfect for the role. Corpuz's star has been on the rise and every time I see him perform his immense talent is increasingly evident. He can sing, he can dance, he's leading man handsome with facial expressions that convey a lot of nuance, and his acting skills work in all varieties of material. 

Kent Coffel is one of the best character actors in town, and he was terrific as the antagonist Dindon. If you've seen The Birdcage you might recall how Gene Hackman's character escaped the drag club in a wig and gown that made look a bit like Bea Arthur. As Coffel made his escape in this show, he looked like how I might image Ozzy Osbourne's grandmother to look like. The man's facial expressions are incredible. The ability to speak volumes without speaking at all is one of the most valuable skills an actor can have, and few in St. Louis are better than Coffel at facial expressions. 

Les Cagelles, the drag queen ensemble, were just fantastic and laugh out loud funny! I tip my hat to Jake "Angelique" Blonstein, Dominic "Chantal" Dowdy-Windsor, Evan "Hanna" Fornachon, Tim "Bitelle" Kaniecki, Clayton "Phaedra" Humburg, and Ian "Mercedes" McCreary for their marvelous contributions. I particularly want to mention that Blonstein's wig and squinty smile reminded me of Gilda Radner, and Humburg and Kaniecki were so convincing that I heard people in the lobby during intermission wondering aloud if they were, in fact, females. Well done, ladies/gents!

As usual, the New Line production team did an excellent job. Directors Scott Miller and Michael Dowdy-Windsor assembled an excellent cast and found yet another unique way to showcase the many talents of Mr. Farmer. Music director Nicolas Valdez lead the New Line Band from his piano, with Kelly Austermann's reeds, Ron Foster's trumpet, Tom Hanson's Trombone, Jake Stergos' bass and Clancy Newell's drums filling the Marcelle Theatre with the sounds of Saint-Tropez. Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack's choreography was strong, especially considering how difficult most men would likely find it to walk in heels never mind dance in them. Everyone looks terrific on Rob Lippert's spacious set thanks to some of Sarah Porter's best costume designs to date. Her gowns for Les Cagelles were simply stunning. Who else could make these dudes look so ravishing?

To be honest, I was reluctant to see La Cage aux Folles. I tend to recoil from anything French and quite honestly I don't understand the drag scene in the slightest. When I heard from several sources that Farmer was taking his craft to a whole new level, I scrambled to make room on my schedule for it. My only regret is that I didn't see it early enough in the run to encourage my readers to go see it. I heard that most of the run was sold out so I'm glad the St. Louis theatre fans made it out to support this top-notch production. You can bet I'll be first in line for New Line Theatre's next production, Be More Chill, when it opens on May 30, 2019.

Visit NewLineTheatre.com for more information about their 28th season, including pictures and information about La Cage aux Folles and dates for Be More Chill. 

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0