By Jordan Wright (Photo/Christopher Mueller)
A marabou boa-filled extravaganza blew into town with Matthew Gardiner’s “La Cage Aux Folles,” now playing at Signature Theatre. As glitzy as Las Vegas, chi-chi and its French Riviera setting, and as campy and flamboyant as Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein intended, this six-time Tony Award-winning musical com- edy hits all the right notes.
Director Matthew Gar- diner — doing double duty as choreographer — takes on the story of two gay men and their nightclub in Saint-Tro- pez, where, as we all know, anything goes. At least that’s what Cole Porter taught us.
Georges, the club’s emcee, is played by Brent Barrett, who looks and sings like a young Robert Goulet. His paramour and right-hand man/gal is Albin, stage name Zsa Zsa, whom actor Bobby Smith portrays like the metamorphic stages of the journey from a caterpillar to a butter- fly and the killer instincts of a shark.
Georges has a son, Jean- Michel (Paul Scanlan), the result of a one-time-only one night stand with a showgirl. The problem is the young man wants to introduce his dewy-eyed fiancee, Anne (Jessica Lauren Ball) and her ultra-conservative parents to his father and jet-setting mother.
What ensues might re- mind you of the American film remake of this tale — “The Birdcage” — with Georges, Albin and their snippy maid Jacob (DJ Petrosino). “I thought I hired a butler!” quips Georges. Keep your eyes on the hilarious Petrosino who is a first-class scene stealer.
The play takes place within the confines of their first-floor nightclub and second-floor home, with an occasional stroll along the shore to reminisce. Scenic designer Lee Savage has upped the wow factor by giving us an insider’s view of the drag club’s green room. Two dressing rooms bracket the stage and we become voyeurs to the performers, primping and preening in various stages of undress.
But this show is not all for show. There are no lip-synching Diana Ross lookalikes in this line up. This is the real deal. Even Jesus makes an appearance, but I’ll keep the circumstances a surprise. No one here is — to borrow a phrase — “resting on pretty.”
Gardiner has cast some extraordinary performers with pipes that can go from alto to soprano in a New York minute, fantastic dance skills and GQ-worthy bodies too. Big applause to the supporting cast of Les Cagelles: Sam Brackley, Darius R. Delk, Ethan Kasnett, Jay Westin, Isaiah W. Young and Phil Young.
How they transform themselves into glam divas alone is worth the price of admission. And an additional hats off to Frank Labovitz’s over- the-top, absolutely fabulous feathered and sequined costumes and Anne Nesmith’s endless assortment of towering wigs.
But there’s a plot here too, and notwithstanding the lights (kudos to Jason Lyons) and sound (hats off to Lane Elms), we are treated to one of the year-to-date’s best performances by Bobby Smith, in a tour-de-force portrayal of Albin, the headlining drag performer whose boundless love and sacrifice teaches us the ultimate truth of what family really means.