By Barry Reszel
With a communal middle finger thrust in the direction of lawmakers in Florida and Texas (more information here), the cast and crew of Music Theater Works’ current production of La Cage aux Folles gyrates and sings out an enthusiastic affirmation of acceptance—all people—as they are, where they are. Based on the 1973 play by Jean Poiret, the 1983 Harvey Fierstein book with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, La Cage is the only work to win the Tony for Best Musical three times. It’s a bawdy spectacle featuring a Saint-Tropez gay couple, Georges and Albin. Georges manages a nightclub featuring drag entertainment; Albin is both his feminine partner as well as his fading, neurotic star attraction, the glamorous Zaza. The farce includes Georges’ son, Jean-Michel, who arrives with news of impending nuptials to Anne, the daughter of the French equivalent of Ted Cruz. A full plot synopsis and history of the show’s highly decorated productions may be read here.In Music Theater Works’ production, Chicagoland stage veteran Jason Richards makes his MTW debut as Georges, with a golden voice and tender demeanor. He’s paired with drag queen star Ginger Minj, brought to Chicagoland from her Tampa, Fla. home (Florida, really, Ginger?) by way of Ru Paul’s Drag Race and numerous stage and screen appearances. Her performance as the dramatically sensitive Albin is Broadway-quality. While the talented ensemble is a colorfully important backdrop to La Cage aux Folles, the casting of the leads, impeccably executed here by Director Kyle A. Dougan, is paramount. That’s because critical to any production of this title is genuine chemistry between Georges and Albin—one that provides emotional credibility to withstand the farcical second act’s absurdity. Indeed, Richards and Minj deliver—and nowhere better than their second act reprise of the lovely “Song on the Sand.”Additional onstage plaudits go to Christopher Ratliff and Heather Banks as the young, newly-engaged couple who bring about the show’s comedic plot requiring a meeting of their respective parents’ vastly different lifestyles and politics. Ratliff’s solo, “With Anne on My Arm” is truly lovely. So, too, Albin’s butler/maid Jacob is played to perfection by the delightfully devilish Dane Strange. He’s the perfect amount of snark, sass and intellect with upper-body muscles and a set of gams that make all patrons jealous. Flamboyant, high-kicking energy and appropriate character singing from Choreographer Christopher Chase Carter’s “Les Cagelles” set the bawdy tone in the midst of Scott Davis’ interestingly minimalist unit set. The set design will particularly be remembered for its massive letters reminding patrons of the show’s setting throughout the performance. Project Runway’s Justin LeBlanc’s costumes are rich—particularly Minj’s matronly ensemble in the second act.In addition to the songs previously mentioned, musical highlights include the opening number, “We Are What We Are,” Minj’s heart-wrenching “I Am What I Am,” Richards’ “Look Over There” and the show’s full-cast “Grand Finale.” In all, Music Theater Works’ La Cage… truly charms while hilariously communicating the urgent messages of kindness and compassion in a time when they’re truly needed. If Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis would like to attend a performance, ChicagolandMusicalTheatre.com will be gaily elated to pay for their tickets. La Cage aux Folles runs through April 3rd at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. For tickets or more information, please click here.