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La Cage aux Folles

A drag queen and his partner of 20 years must hide who they truly are.

Brent Barrett and Bobby Smith in La Cage aux Folles, directed by Matthew Gardiner, at Signature Theatre.
(© Christopher Mueller)

The Signature Theatre has transformed itself into a glittering St. Tropez nightclub for a wondrous production of La Cage aux Folles. Based on the 1973 play of the same name, the musical was a smash when it hit Broadway for the first time in 1983, winning six Tonys, including Best Musical, Best Score (Jerry Herman), and Best Book (Harvey Fierstein). Signature's associate artistic director Matthew Gardiner stays faithful to the original version, bringing out all the allure and spectacle that the musical offers.

The story looks at the lives of Albin (a tour-de-force performance by Bobby Smith), the temperamental lead drag performer of the Saint-Tropez Night Club on the French Riviera, and Georges (a stern yet emotionally strong Brent Barrett), the club's owner who has been in a blissful relationship with Albin for two decades. When their son announces his engagement to the daughter of ultraconservative parents, the couple must "play it straight" for dinner and hide the true nature of their lives.

For Smith, a Signature veteran, Albin (together with his alter ego, Zaza) is his great role. He nails every comedic and heartfelt nuance of the part, and also boasts powerful, pitch-perfect pipes that simply soar in the anthem "I Am What I Am" and enchant in his inspiring "The Best of Times (Is Now)."

Barrett is his equal as Georges, providing a calm and cool presence — especially in the tune "Look Over There." He also keeps the story from getting too exaggerated at times. The chemistry between the couple is authentic and loving. In one of the tenderest scenes of La Cage, Georges grabs Albin's hand while sitting in a café, even though it's considered somewhat taboo to do so, and his expression alone keeps Albin's fears at bay.

The riches of the supporting cast are everywhere, all the way down to the club's dancers. Scene-stealer D.J. Petrosino is a daffy delight as Jacob the maid, with his Eurotrash accent and gift of physical comedy. Sherri L. Edelen also has some great comic timing, showing a gift of pantomime as the politician's devout wife, Marie Dindon. Nova Payton makes the most of her chance to shine as the froufrou Jacqueline. Paul Scanlan seems to lack a little of the emotional thread expected from son Jean-Michel, but he has a stunning voice, which he shows off quite well in "With Anne on my Arm."

La Cage aux Folles seems to have larger meaning these days — especially in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando — and Gardiner takes to heart the musical's main message of staying proud of who you are, and never being ashamed.

Scenic designer Lee Savage creates a magnificent spectacle within the Max Theatre, with audience members feeling as if they are in the French Riviera nightclub thanks to a glittering stage, makeup tables, and an ambience that screams drag club. Plus, costume designer Frank Labovitz is on point with the dazzling gowns and over-the-top outfits worn by Zaza and the La Cage performers to really make the club come alive.

La Cage aux Folles is both powerful and a great deal of fun, so kick up your heels and get ready for a night you won't soon forget.

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