After three weeks of performances running straight into its final run during Piccolo, the Footlight Players’ production of La Cage Aux Folles is running on all cylinders. The cast looks like they have, in fact, been going at each other for years with the smart, snippy dialogue.
La Cage is the 1983 Tony-winning American musical penned by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein, based on a French play by the same name. The story got the big screen treatment in 1996 in The Birdcage starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.
The tale revolves around drag cabaret owner Georges and his life partner Albin (who headlines the cabaret as drag star ZaZa). Their son (Georges’ biological child he fathered during one crazy night with a woman) asks his honey for her hand in marriage, but she’s got some parental baggage, too — a right-wing political father bent on ending the gender-bending good times at the club.
Though part of a wrinkle-free ensemble, Brandon Joyner stands out as Albin. The character doesn’t get the best lines, but Joyner makes up for it with his varying degrees of cluelessness, hysteria, and sass. And he delivers the musical’s signature number, “I Am What I Am,” with the disappointment and pride it deserves. With several weeks of drag under his sequined belt, Joyner’s comfort as ZaZa is infectious and his improvised banter with the audience gives some of the production’s best moments.
As Georges, Robbie Thomas happily plays Albin’s straight man (pun intended), seemingly pushing Joyner to further comedic gold, particularly in their duet, “With You on My Arm,” and through the de-gaying fiasco “Masculinity.”
We’re in a different world than the one Herman and Fierstein were commenting on in 1983, but the musical’s message of tolerance (be it for your gay neighbors or your right-wing wacko in-laws) is just as pressing today as ever. And the idea of gay couples struggling through the same concerns over fidelity and child-rearing carry even more weight in the modern debate about what it means to be married.