Niagara Gazette

September 19, 2013

'La Cage aux Folles' comes to Musicalfare

Night & Day

Night & Day — In 1979, the movie “La Cage aux Folles” took Buffalo by storm, playing at the then Allendale Theater for more than 30 weeks.

This was a time when, for example, one dominant Buffalo editor would bluntly forbid reportage on any theatrical enterprise involving folks in relationships proscribed by the Book of Leviticus. Not just the scripts – the very actors and actresses themselves. So how’d that work out?

Perhaps more than any parade or protest, “La Cage” altered straight Americans’ outlook on same-sex relationships, with laughter, affection and just a teeny bit of exaggeration.

Now, 34 years after the fact, the live musical take on “La Cage” comes to Grand Islander Randy Kramer’s Musicalfare, 4380 Main St., again with an extraordinarily long run, through Oct. 13.

Gregory Gjurich and Ben Puglisi star as, respectively, proprietor Georges of a female-impersonator nightclub and his star performer and lifemate, who goes by either Albin or Zaza, depending on the time of day. In 1979, Georges would back off from a nasty spat to tell A/Z he would live with him in sludge rather than in a palace with anybody else, “because you make me laugh.” This line did not make the cut here, a pity.

Gjurich and Puglisi are as perfectly paired as any odd couple, Gjurich full of sympathy and empathy, tempered by profit motive. Puglisi personifies defiance, and while his failure at macho seems extreme, his coming-all-the-way out song, “I Am What I Am,” resonates with newborn pride.

What’s happened is, the lad whom Georges and Albin raised as a son is about to marry the daughter of a moralistic politician who would make Rush Limbaugh look moderate. Georges and the son determine that for propriety, Albin must momentarily fly the coop. Albin accedes with a pout that would bring rain, but in the end (spoiler alert) deliciously saves the day.

All this plays out around the derring-do of the club, where costumier Kari Drozd’s choices seem to favor the sheath over the spectacle for entertainers who advise, “The more you drink, the better we look.” More vague than truthful, the lineup includes NU grad Marc Sacco as Mercedes (dissed as “VW” by a rival) and Kevin Donohue as the whip-cracking Hannah.

Niagara Regional Theatre Guild regular Steve Jakiel puckers powerfully as the insufferable office-seeker and Dudney Joseph could steal the show as the maid, or butler as the situation demands.

Seldom, though, does this “La Cage” deeply personalize the central relationship as did “the original” even with Puglisi radiating shopworn savoir faire. Self-mockery carried the day and last Wednesday’s throng at 4380 Main St., most much older than I, received it with great warmth.

Doug Smith has been reviewing theater on the Niagara Frontier since 1969.

Doug Smith has been reviewing theater on the Niagara Frontier since 1969.