Over the past year, the stage at Stage West Playhouse has been transformed into everything from a pirate ship (Peter and the Starcatcher), a mansion in the Bavarian Alps (Sound of Music), to an assisted living facility (Four Old Broads) and a London townhouse (Mary Poppins, Jr.). Now the stage has become a drag nightclub in St. Tropez for the musical comedy La Cage Aux Folles.
The play is a raucous comedy about two men − Georges and Albin, owners of a nightclub featuring performers in drag. Georges manages the club, and Albin is the star of the shows, performing under the stage name of “Zaza.”
The two have been raising Georges’ son, Jean-Michel since he was a baby after his birth mother abandoned him. The plot thickens when Jean-Michel comes home and announces that he is bringing his fiancée, Anne, and her parents home to meet his father and “mother.” Anne’s parents are straight-laced and bigoted. Jean-Michel knows that they would never approve of the marriage if they knew about Georges and Albin’s relationship. George agrees to act “normal” for his son’s sake, and Jean-Michel talks Albin into disappearing for a few days. As in the case of any good comedy/farce, things do not go as planned, and the results are hilarious.
The costumes in the show are amazing, with Ryan Bintz playing Albin (“Zaza”) going through at least ten costume changes − from elaborate evening gowns to a tailored business dress. Bintz’s acting is spot on. He captures the essence of both Albin and his alter-ego, “Zaza,” and plays the part with humor as well as pathos.
The sets are well-crafted, invoking the settings of a nightclub dressing room, a sidewalk café, and the interior of an apartment. Unlike many community musical productions that utilize recorded music, the show features musicians playing piano, percussion instruments, and saxophone. This live music enhances the enjoyment of the songs, which range from the humorous “A Little More Mascara” and the romantic “With Anne on my Arm” to the touching numbers “I Am What I Am” and “The Best of Times.”
The actors are excellent in their roles and believable in their portrayals of the characters. The cast displays genuine enjoyment in performing their parts, whether large or small.
Brady Lay, as Georges, realistically evokes a wide range of emotions and does it in a way that isn’t melodramatic. Lay has been acting since he was ten years old.
“I love acting because it lets me not be me and takes me away from the real world just for a little while,” remarks Lay.
“Georges is a more complex character. His heart is overwhelmingly accepting and loving. Being able to get that across to the audience and in a humorous manner has been a fun challenge,” he adds.
Anthony Agnelli portrays Jean-Michel. His character is torn between the fear he has of losing Anne because of her parents’ disapproval and the love he has for Georges and Albin, who raised him and gave him everything he needed. In the end, he grows as a person.
“Jean-Michel has a journey of redemption to go on as he learns to reconcile with both different families and appreciate the life that he has,” explains Agnelli.
For Agnelli, acting has many rewards.
“I love the fact as an actor, you’re constantly learning new things as you get to be in other people’s shoes. You get to create funny, dramatic, and impactful moments and connect with a live audience,” he remarks.
Annette Hager, who plays Anne, has been acting since she was twelve. Some of her favorite roles were Ms. Brill in Mary Poppins, Jr. and Rosie in Mamma Mia.
“I find both the friendships I build and the character I find throughout this production the most rewarding thing an actor can achieve,” Ms. Hager explains.
Beccy Porter portrays Marie Dindon, Anne’s mother. She remarks that she has been “hooked” on acting ever since she was five years old, more than thirty-five years ago. She enjoyed playing Mother Superior in Nunsense because “it allowed me to exercise my slapstick muscles.”
On the other hand, Marie Dindon is her opposite in every way.
“This [role] gave me a chance to walk in her shoes and grow some empathy for the Maries out there. It’s always challenging to find the core of a character and figure out what they would or wouldn’t do in a given situation,” Ms. Porter states.
Dalton Benson, a veteran of more than eighty Stage West productions, plays the part of Anne’s father, Edouard Dindon. What he liked best about the role is that “I play against type. I am a gentle, quiet person, and I had to dig deep to find the level of arrogance and pomposity that would make this character unlikeable.”
“The most rewarding thing [about acting] is the passion and intensity it takes to create a character who is different with each production,” Benson remarks.
Although it takes a whole crew of people to produce a play, the ultimate responsibility for the performance lies in the hands of the director. Lynda Dilts-Benson puts to use her many years of experience as a director to bring the show to fruition.
“A director is a problem-solver, and some shows, such as this one, come with a bunch of issues. Musicals are harder because they have so many moving parts − dance, music, sets, costumes,” states Ms. Dilts-Benson.
On the other hand, she finds directing to be very rewarding.
“I am an artist at heart, and when you see your vision on the stage, there is no feeling like it. You become a family with your cast and crew. You come through some tough stuff together while you are creating theatrical magic.”
There will be three more performances of La Cage Aux Folles − Friday, January 27, at 7:30 pm and Saturday and Sunday, January 28 and 29, at 2:00 pm. Stage West Playhouse is located at 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd, Spring Hill. Tickets can be ordered online at www.stagewestflorida.com or by calling the box office at 352-683-5113, Tuesdays – Saturdays 10 am – 2 pm.