Presented by North Shore Music Theatre
Based on the play by Jean Poiret
Directed by Charles Repole
Choreography by Michael Lichtefeld
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman
Review by Craig Idlebrook
(Beverly) Somewhere in the middle of the fantastic North Shore Production of La Cage Aux Folles, I had an “aha” moment about the concept of drag. As a child, I had never understood why some male transvestite performers seemed to equate dressing like a woman to dressing like Dolly Parton in her heyday. It was a mystery I didn’t realize I hadn’t solved until I was watching this thoughtful, nuanced and hysterical play come to life. For some, going drag isn’t about replicating the other gender; instead, it’s about upending fixed norms on what it means to be a man or a woman. (File under “Duh.”)
Director Charles Repole does a fantastic job of bringing this ripe theme out of Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s book and score, which is based on Jean Poiret’s original script. The plot follows a middle-aged gay couple, Georges (Charles Shaughnessy) and Albin (Jonathan Hammond), who have provided a loving household for their son, Jean Michel (Zach Trimmer) while also running the most notorious drag bar in France. To their surprise, when Jean Michel brings home a woman he wants to marry, they learn she’s the offspring of a far right politician who wants to outlaw the gay “lifestyle”. Showing the self-absorbed focus that only the young can, Jean Michel asks Albin to swap places with his birth mother to pull off a façade that he was raised in a heterosexual family. What ensues is a funny and tear-jerking discussion of what makes a man and what makes a family; it is camp at its campiest and drama at its most poignant.
Repole threads the needle beautifully with this stellar cast. In order for the textures to come out of this queer dramady, we have to feel a deep human connection between these larger-than-life figures. I never doubted that the lead couple had lived together for years; Shaughnessy and Hammond are adorable as a couple that has been together long enough to make love a bewildering game of chess. And each character that enters their orbit gains the same gravity and neurosis, which makes us believe in them.
Repole also makes a fun casting choice by having some of the drag queens be played by women, so no one in the audience can be totally sure what makes a man a man and a woman a woman. He was aided mightily in putting on a strong production by choreographer Michael Lichtefeld. Often, the North Shore stage can seem too small or too disorganized, but Lichtefeld and Repole seem to feel at home staging the action in the round. It was the best staging at North Shore I’ve seen.
Sadly, this production has closed, so you’re going to have to take my word on its awesomeness. You can also check out the 1996 non-musical film adaptation The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. It won’t have the same heart, but you can’t expect everything to kill it like this production.