Brent Barrett Emcees an Intimate La Cage aux Folles at Signature Theatre
"I love the story and what it says," says Broadway veteran Brent Barrett (Chicago, Candide, Annie Get Your Gun), who takes on the role of Georges in Jerry Herman's La Cage aux Folles for the second time in his career. "I also love doing it in this presidential year right outside of D.C."
After a short run in summer 2014 at the Wells Fargo Pavilion in Sacramento, California, Barrett returns to the role at Arlington, Virginia's Signature Theatre — a stone's throw away from the center of American politics and the epicenter of the recently victorious fight for marriage equality.
As a Saint-Tropez drag club manager forced back into the closet when his son becomes engaged to a woman from an ultraconservative family, Georges' character still embodies the same personal and political conflicts that they did when La Cage first hit Broadway in 1983. Barrett took a few minutes after rehearsal to tell TheaterMania about his own history with the show, including an audition for the original Broadway production and the positive evolution of his onstage romances.
You played Georges in a 2014 Sacramento production. Is there anything you're looking forward to revisiting with this character?
I'm hoping to go deeper into the relationship between Albin and Georges. When you do something at summer stock, you learn it very quickly and you get up and do it. I'm looking forward to having a little more time with it.
Signature Theatre is known for bringing big musicals to more intimate spaces. How will that lend itself to a musical like La Cage?
[The] really great thing about doing La Cageat the Signature is the intimacy. When people come into the house, they're really going to feel like they're in a club — simply because of the design of the show, and I think also just because of the proximity. Going back and forth from being in the club to being in the apartment, I think it's going to be fairly seamless.
How does a big Jerry Herman production register in a smaller theater?
When you break it all down it's really a very small story. It's not a big show unless you just keep piling things on top of it. It's a very intimate family story. The original production was enormous, but it was 1983 and that's what you expected with a Jerry Herman musical. So with this, I'm hoping that we'll be able to focus on the stories and the relationships a little more, but without the audience missing the sequins and the feathers — because there are plenty of sequins and feathers in this production.
What was your first experience with La Cage?
I was traveling in Europe — I guess this was the summer of 1976. I was in Paris traveling with an American friend who spoke French, and La Cage, the original French film, was playing in Paris. We went to see it, and he translated the entire movie for me. That was my first experience with La Cage. Then I auditioned for the first production that Arthur Laurents directed and it was down between myself and somebody else to play the son and I didn't get it. I've had a long history with the show, so it's nice to get back to it after all those years.
How have the depictions of gay relationships changed over the past thirty years, from La Cage to today?
Back then it was like, "Oh, that's kind of daring." [But] most of the time they cast two straight men in these roles. Even though they were telling this story, I think they had all the glitz and the glamor on top of it to make it more palatable to the audience that they were playing for. In '84 I did a musical called Dance a Little Closer, which was Alan Jay Lerner's last show. There were two gay airline stewards, and they [the creative team] were uncomfortable with us doing a love duet. It was set in the Alps, so we did this love duet on ice skates, and we really didn't touch. When we did, it was to do ice skating turns — so people wouldn't get uncomfortable watching two men singing a love song to each other. You think about that now and you think how ridiculous that is.
Do you ever think there will be a time when all of these conversations surrounding La Cage will be completely antiquated?
I do think there will be a time. It certainly isn't in 2016.