ETC's “La Cage aux Folles” as fun and poignant as ever after 30 years.
In 1967, the Beatles were commissioned to write a song that could be understood by the masses. So, John Lennon and Paul McCartney set to work writing the most universal truth they could think of: “All You Need is Love.” They hoped to send a message of peace and understanding in its simplest form, without attempting to tear down political walls.
Similarly, “La Cage aux Folles”, opening July 17 at the Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga, seeks to explore that truth beyond the traditional “boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl get married and live happily ever after” story so often told and so easily accepted. Instead, it looks at love from a more universal perspective and asks the audience to recognize the overwhelming power of love beyond the confines of the “straight” (and narrow).
Written by Harvey Fierstein in 1983 and based on a play of the same name by French playwright Jean Poiret, “La Cage” is a tale as old as time…well, if you exclude the drag queens, nightclubs and conflicts between political conservatism and homosexuality. (The film “The Birdcage”, with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, was an adaptation of the Broadway hit.)
The story centers around a gay couple, Georges, the proprietor of a St. Tropez nightclub featuring a nightly drag show, and his partner and the club’s star performer, Albin. It unfolds as they prepare to meet the fiancée of Georges’ son and her extremely conservative family. Hilarity ensues as they attempt to become the model family but struggle to be anything other than exactly who they are, which happens to be far more fabulous and much more entertaining.
It’s a story about family, acceptance, and most importantly, love. ETC’s director, Garry Lee Posey, selected this piece in part because of his personal connection to the show, but also because ultimately the show is “just about people loving each other…[It] reminds people that we’re all just people, trying to make a family and love.”
In a society polarized on the issue of gay marriage, “La Cage” carries an important reminder that families and relationships ultimately boil down to one thing: love. And while the show relies heavily on the relationship and security of a gay couple, Posey points out that it’s not a show that forces the issue of “accept me for who I am”. In fact, it’s beyond that. As one of the show’s most powerful and famous songs says, “I am who I am”.
ETC’s production boasts a large cast, mostly new actors to the ETC stage, many of whom are drag performers. “Chattanooga has a pretty large drag community,” Posey says, “and with this kind of show, we’re able to tap into that as a market.” The nightclub is a central part of the story and so, therefore, are the drag queens who perform in it.
The audience will be invited to sit either in general seating or the cabaret tables, giving them an opportunity to engage with the show in a much more intimate way. “There are two things I find extremely important,” Posey says, “One is imagination. The second is the collaborative effort between the audience and the actor.” Bringing the audience directly into the show allows the performers to engage in a much more realistic way and “creates a nice intimacy so the audience feels like because they’re so close, they’re a part of the story.”
Enjoying this show is no challenge. From toe-tapping, memorable Broadway show tunes written by Jerry Herman, to a beautiful script by Fierstein, to the grand color, pop and panache of the drag show within the show, this is a production for all lovers of musical theater.
For, as any audience member will no doubt feel, to understand and enjoy “La Cage aux Folles”, love is really all you need.
“La Cage aux Folles”
7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays,
2:30 p.m. Sundays.
Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga
5600 Brainerd Rd.
(inside Eastgate Town Center)