Review: Oak Lawn Park District Theatre’s La Cage Aux Folles

Music and Lyrics: Jerry Herman
Book: Harvey Fierstein
Location: Oak Park District Theatre
Director: Josie Nirchi
Music Director: Marty Hesse

Over the weekend I went to see a friend of mine in La Cage Aux Folles as put on by the Oak Lawn Park District. As is always the case there is some good, some bad, and some ugly aspects in community theatre… and since I am the blunt type… well I’ll work with what I can.

In fact… there is one weekend left for this rarely done production and in all honesty there is one aspect of the production that is more than worth the price of admission: Brad Kisner as Albin/Zaza.

The show – to me – seems to revolve around the character of Albin/Zaza and his relationship between his partner Georges and “son” Jean-Michel. Which would make sense that whomever is lucky (or unlucky) enough to capture this part would have been more than just “damn good” to make the production worthwhile and Brad Kisner does in spades.

Not only was he believable as Albin/Zaza but he seemed to just breath the character within every moment. Seriously if Brad were to do a “one man show” being that Albin/Zaza character I would be more than happy to pay the price of admission ($21) to see it.

However the chemistry between Brad and Paul Nirchi (who plays Albin’s partner Georges) seemed off at times. Once in a while I simply didn’t believe the chemistry between the pair, but then again I felt that Brad brought out the best of Paul (much like how Albin brings out the best of Georges) so it seemed like art imitating life.

Paul, I felt, did a good job as Georges, but unlike Brad (where I believed everything coming out of him) I felt that Paul did not reach that level of “believe-ability” if that make sense.

The final third of this familial trifecta is Georges biological son: Jean-Michel as portrayed by Graig Mason, he had the right kind of energy and enthusiasm for a young man in this mid-twenties and his chemistry with both parental figures (Albin and Georges) was realistic and palpable.

Take that a step further and Graig’s interaction with his love interest: Anne as portrayed by Jenn Rooney was extremely fun and realistic to watch. Made for a nice counterpoint to that of Georges/Albin.

From the craziness of Jean-Michel’s family life and looking at Anne’s, even though we only see moments I really enjoyed the casting of Anne’s parents (M. Dindon – John Gonczy and Mme. Dindon – Kim Brines). Their interaction between one another, to their stage-daughter and to the environment around them was believable and draws you in to the point that you can’t help but wonder how a sweet open-minded girl like Anne could have come from parents like them.

One of the more fun roles in the ensembles was that of the Cagelles… ten drag queens who fill in several major numbers and should for all intents and purposes just steal the show. Except in the case of this particular production, four of the ten drag queens are women, not necessarily a bad thing but it does pose a particular problem.

Now… if one is going to mix men and women into the roles of drag queens… My expectation is that I don’t want to be able to distinguish who is the guy and who is the girl (especially if there are some fabulous male drag queens in the cast). In this production, more often than not… I was able to distinguish which of the Cagelles were the women and which were the men.

The Cagelles are also given some of the more dance heavy choreography. There were times during the Cagelle’s numbers that I felt the Cagelles were having so much fun that I wanted to join in, granted the dancing might not be perfect but it seemed like they were having loads of fun and really for a show like this… I felt that having fun is what counts more. I mean honestly… would you rather see a group of dancers having loads of fun but having imperfect choreography or perfect choreography but the dancers are as dead as doorknobs? To me the answer seems pretty obvious.

Other highlights of this particular production of La Cage? Mark Bartishell as Jacob/Claudine was an absolute riot when he came on stage. It is very easy for him to be outright annoying and too over the top, but oddly enough I did not feel that he was either. In fact he floating on that knife edge so well that it just looked like he was having fun.

Jennifer Rhead as Jacqueline was also a riot to watch in the few moments in the second act that she had to shine. She looked like she just took the role she was given and ran away with it as far as she was able to and flew when she was met with an obstacle. I definitely wanted more of Jacqueline.

All in all… it was an ok production… and in all honesty Brad Kisner (with a few other highlights) more than make up the deficiencies of this production in leaps and bounds. It is a fun frolic for the most part and in all honesty isn’t that what community theatre is all about?