The classic Harvey Fierstein-penned Broadway musical is full of laughter, song, and a most memorable drag performance.
Ash Griffith | January 30, 2019
As we grow up, we all have those moments when, looking back, our LGBTQ status should have been clearer. The fact that, as a child, I had the film version of The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, playing on an infinite loop is definitely one of mine.
Luckily for grown-up me, Fredericksburg’s Riverside Center for the Performing Arts is currently running the original musical that Williams and Lane’s classic film is based off of. La Cage Aux Folles by Harvey Fierstein tells the story of a gay couple, George and Albin, who are the manager and star, respectively, of a popular Saint-Tropez nightclub featuring drag entertainment. Their son comes home one day to tell them that they will be meeting his fiance’s parents (who are, naturally, conservative politicians. It happens), and when his mother (from George’s previous relationship back in the day) refuses to appear and portray the female half of a happy heterosexual family, it’s up to Albin to put on the best drag show of his career.
Then hijinks and comedy of all kinds ensue. Of course.
Riverside’s Producer and Artistic Director, Patrick A’Hearn, is in charge of choosing the various shows that the center does each season. When he realized that La Cage was such a popular request amongst their patrons, the decision to perform it was simple.
“Oddly enough, a lot of our older patrons have asked to see the show, because it’s an old-fashioned Broadway musical,” said A’Hearn. “It came up and I floated it by, and everyone was excited about it. So we decided to do it.”
To bring the play to life, A’Hearn reached out to Richmond-based director Patti D’Beck. “She’s directed a lot at Virginia Rep,” he said. “I reached out to her because I thought this would be right up her alley, and she was so excited.”
And that is delightful news. However, if you’re looking for the live version of the classic Robin Williams-Nathan Lane film, you won’t really find that here. Not exactly. The original musical has quite a few differences, which may surprise audiences not very familiar with the original. For one thing, there’s the music.
“It is a musical, and not just a play,” said actor Gabe Belyeu, who portrays Albin. “One of the big differences is you never meet Christine Baranski[‘s character] in this version. She sends a telegram that she’s not coming, and Albin steps in to play the role.”
As you’d expect with such a fun, classic romp, the cast and crew had many points to make about why they enjoyed doing this production so much.
“I think it’s such a great comedy,” said Belyeu. “It pulls on your heartstrings; it has great music. Now that I’m getting to revisit it now that I’m older, for me it’s just been lovely to reconnect with it and share it with a new audience.” And of course, while you might not think about it in the context of such a lighthearted, hilarious play, there’s an important socio-political aspect of La Cage Aux Folles as well — and as Belyeu points out, that very lighthearted context helps bring the play’s message to an audience that might not be as prepared for a more direct approach.
“Virginia is a little more conservative than Upstate New York, but this show’s always a good opportunity to share with people that doesn’t ostracize them,” said Belyeu. “It’s using comedy and music to help people have a better understanding, and realize they can identify with someone who isn’t the same as them.”
La Cage Aux Folles is currently playing at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, located at 95 Riverside Parkway in Fredericksburg, and will be showing five nights a week (Wed-Sun) through Sunday, March 9th, 2019. For showtimes and tickets, visit their website at riversidedt.com.
Photos: Riverside Center For The Performing Arts, via Facebook