Flying the coop
La Cage aux Folles sets values free

click to enlarge Ta-daaa! Thaddeus Valdez (center) shines as Albin.
  • Ta-daaa! Thaddeus Valdez (center) shines as Albin.

Our baby is getting married. Where, oh where, did we go wrong?"

In a tongue-in-cheek moment, a drag queen laments the failure of his child's upbringing in the Fine Arts Center's gender-bending La Cage aux Folles.

But rather than subverting so-called traditional values, the musical reinforces the importance of love, commitment and respect for others. And it does so through extravagant dance numbers and the meeting of two families coming from opposite ends of today's blue state-red state divide.

La Cage is the story of middle-aged French couple Georges (Matt Newton) and Albin (Thaddeus Valdez), owners of the Saint Tropez nightclub, La Cage aux Folles. Where the club is all feather boas, sequins and dancing drag queens, their apartment next door is the "typical" home, where they raised their now-24-year-old son, Jean-Michel (Brandon Payne).

Throwing this domestic harmony into disarray, Jean-Michel announces that he intends to marry Anne (Tori Humpert), the daughter of homophobic politician Edouard Dindon (Mark Hennessey). And, Jean-Michel adds, the Dindons are en route to meet the family.

Afraid of losing Anne, Jean-Michel wants to exclude the overly dramatic and more effeminate Albin from the encounter, and asks Georges to assume a more "acceptable" role as an ex-diplomat. Georges is disappointed and saddened; Albin throws a fit. The stage is set for a hilarious farce full of cross-dressing antics.

La Cage has been widely performed on the American stage. The plot is based on a French stage production, a subsequent 1978 movie by Jean Poiret, and a book by Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy). It also was the inspiration for the 1996 Hollywood film The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

Much of the humor in the FAC production is delivered well. However, the production as a whole doesn't jell. Some performers don't yet seem comfortable in their roles.

As Albin, Valdez is an exception. The standout performance of the show is his soaring rendition of "I Am What I Am," which boasts one of the night's most poignant lines: "Life's not worth a damn, until you can say, "I am what I am.'"

La Cage is a powerful comment on the importance of accepting people for who they are, rather than how others want them to be. It also ridicules the idea that values and morals can be monopolized by any one group.

That the main characters are gay is significant, explains guest director Neil David Seibel.

"Where other countries are making strides in civil liberties, America has regressed."


La Cage aux Folles

Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.

Through March 5; Friday and

Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m.

Tickets: In advance, FAC members $24, non-members $26; at the door, $29. Call 634-5583 or visit csfineartscenter.org.


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