Kristopher Lloyd Shaw as Georges and Bob Edes Jr. as Zaza/Albin strut their stuff in ‘La Cage aux Folles,’ season opener for Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre.
Tulane University’s Dixon Hall has about 970 seats, but if I were you, I’d call right now to see the Jerry Herman musical “La Cage aux Folles” this weekend. Because by the time word-of-mouth spreads about the magic that Tulane Summer Lyric Theater artistic director B.Michael Howard and his ridiculously talented company have worked on this show, they could be facing a sell-out.
Jean Poiret’s gay boulevard comedy has had one previous stage incarnation and three film versions (that I know of), but Herman’s may be the best and certainly the flashiest incarnatioin of the familiar tale of Albin/Zaza, the Riviera night club drag star, Georges, her impresario husband and Jean-Michel, the child they have raised to adulthood together. In addition to humor and dazzling production numbers, it has a vein of valid musical theater drama and a stirring anthem, “I Am What I Am,” setting it apart.
Of course, we all know that B. (which stands for “Brilliant”) Michael Howard knows this show — and every show he directs — backward and forward, and how he takes every emotion and laugh to the ultimate power. I would say he is a wizard if I hadn’t attended many of his rehearsals and know how he perfects every little movement, until it does indeed have a meaning all its own. And Leonard Raybon, the most glamorous musician in the city (although a lady sitting next to me said, “To me, he’ll always be “Li’l Abner”) conducts the magnificent , 24-piece orchestra, reminding us of how much Jerry Herman’s score draws on the French music hall, as well as Broadway brass.
I have never heard Kris Shaw sing better and the courageously sleazy, louche look he sports as Georges is sublime. (You see the character’s whole history as a lounge lizard.) Bob Edes gives us a completely original and multi-layered Albin/Zaza, funny and touching and gutsy, while looking like local acting icon Shirl Cieutat. Edes also demonstrates how much there is to Albin, why Georges still loves him so.
That oo-la-la Diane Lala choreography is impressively varied and displays every talent her dancers possess and then some. A deep bow to this tirelessly inventive lady.
Dan Iwrey’s voice, appearance and charming stage demeanor as Jean-Michel made all the ladies — and not a few of men — go “Awwww!” His Anne, Grace Hart (how good that name will look on a marquee), is everything you want an ingenue to be: beautiful, dewey and, in your mind, forever dancing. Beverly Trask’s restaurant proprietress Jacqueline is a Piaf if Piaf had taken care of herself, in the requisite Chanel “little black dress.” Noah Ricketts is a deliciously naughty Jacob and Amy Alvarez as a bluenose cutting loose must be seen to be believed.
Rick Paul’s scenery is right out of a “Madeleine” book and I especially liked his posters plugging “A Little Night Music” and “Kiss Me Kate,” which comprise the rest of the Summer Lyric season. He is a certified genius in the way his curtains and settings match and tinsel a show.
It would have been nice to see more skin on the boy-and-girl “Les Cagelles” chorus line, but the Judy Garland trademark tux jacket-and-legs “Summer Stock” costumes made up for it.Any quibbles one has fade in memory because all one really recalls is how everyone and everything was oh, so “right.” You can relax at a Tulane Summer Lyric production because you know that from top to bottom, it’s going to be first-class all the way.
It achieved the impossible — it made this ink-stained wretch wish I was reviewing again. I hasten to add that only a very few stagings in the city make me feel that way.As Noel Coward wrote, “I couldn’t have liked it more.”
–Mahatma Kane Jeeves
Performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Call 865-5279 or click here for tickets.
This review was submitted to NolaVie by Mahatma Kane Jeeves (look it up), a New Orleanian with a flair for and knowledge of good drama.