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Guess who's coming to dinner
The Fort Wayne Civic Theater kicks of 2018 with La Cage aux Folles
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Entertainment and the arts are full of unlikely hits, works that probably didn’t seem like they would be successes, but somehow caught on with audiences in a big, big way, surpassing even the most optimistic expectations.
On paper, the stage version of La Cage aux Folles is one of those: a musical adaptation of a French movie based on a play featuring a gay couple who manage a drag show. In the early-ish 80s, when the musical was coming together, it must have seemed like a long shot. Yet La Cage aux Folles certainly caught on — one of the longest runs on Broadway and London during its initial release, followed by successful tours, musical and non-musical film adaptations, soundtrack albums, countless awards and nominations… and revivals. Lots of revivals.
Musicals live or die by their songs, of course, and La Cage aux Folles is packed with memorable — and sometimes very funny — songs, with first act finale “I Am What I Am” enjoying success and notoriety far beyond the play.
But great songs won’t land if you can’t get audiences in the seats, and considering La Cage Aux Folles had one of the longest runs in Broadway history, the play has never had a problem doing that. John Boss, who makes his Fort Wayne Civic debut when the production kicks off February 17, says La Cage… simply “caught on” back in the 80s, possibly because there wasn’t much like it out there. Perhaps more importantly, the plot strikes a chord with many — two sets of soon-to-be in-laws from very different backgrounds meeting for the first time. One of those couples is gay; the husband of the other couple is a politician who heads up the Tradition, Family and Morality Party. “There’s a lot of dialogue in the show about opening your eyes and seeing what’s all around you, and that’s what the play did,” Boss says. “It opened people’s eyes.”
While “awareness raising” didn’t seem to be on La Cage aux Folles agenda back in the day, it sort of got there anyway. Basically, in the most unpretentious, non-threatening way possible, amidst jokes and sight gags and flamboyant musical numbers, La Cage aux Folles says that the problems and issues faced by Georges (Boss, in the Civic production) and his spouse Albin (Brock Ireland), issues like family, identity, and the sacrifices parents make for their children, are universal.
John Boss is probably a better authority than most on the appeal of La Cage… A professional actor based out of Chicago, Boss has been in eight other productions of the musical, and has played Georges three times. He was in one of the first regional professional productions after its Broadway run. “I have a very long history with the show,” he laughs. “My first production was in 1988.”
Boss has “played the boards” in Indiana quite a few times, including tours of the state during the 80s (“all the way to Kokomo”) and even a stint with a musical revue in Bryant. “It was similar to a cruise ship show,” he says, “except in a cornfield.” But this is his first time at the Civic. He came to see Billy Dawson in Jekyll & Hyde last year and was impressed by the professionalism of the show and the theater. “I was blown away by the production values and the venue,” he says. When he heard the Civic was auditioning for La Cage… , he wanted to do the show one more time. “You have this great costumer, a great music director, a gorgeous theater… It’s like being on national tour again.”
The Civic’s production of La Cage aux Folles is based on one of the more recent revivals. There’s been a few changes to the script, mostly with Georges’ spouse Albin. Brock Ireland — who has a very long list of theater credits in Fort Wayne to his name, most recently as Mr Fizziwig in A Christmas Carol — plays Albin, and Boss says the updates to the script give Albin a more extensive professional theater background. “Albin is portrayed as more of a legitimate actor as opposed only being a drag queen, like in the original,” Boss explains. “But in the revival, there’s a little more about family, a little more about being your true self and standing up for what you believe in.”
In truth, those themes were always there in the original script, but Boss says it gives him a little more challenge as an actor, and allows him to grow the character of Georges. “The second act is very different than what I’ve done before, as far as Georges is concerned,” he says. “I haven’t done Georges for almost five years. Each time I repeat a role, I really want to bring what I have to the table, but I also want to breath new life into the character, and I’ve been able to do that here.”
“Georges wears so many hats,” Boss continues. “He’s a father, a husband, and a businessman. There’s so many different facets to this character, and it feels all new to me. Plus, I interact differently with these wonderful cast members. It brings out the ‘family’ side of Georges. That just seemed to happen on its own, building strong relationships with the stage family members.”
La Cage Aux Folles is also, on some level, a play about show business. Georges and Albin are proprietors of a nightclub, and many of the musical numbers in the play itself need to be as flashy and elaborate as the acts in Georges and Albin’s nightclub. Boss says that that’s offered another challenge to the cast and crew. “We’re doing the show in this big, beautiful state-of-the-art theater, and we’ve incorporated all the scene changes and costume changes and technical aspects of the show into the rehearsal process before we even get on stage,” he says. It’s made for difficult rehearsals at times, but… “It’s very important that all that take place, and kudos to director Phil (Colglazier) for making that part of the rehearsal process early on. When we get on stage, we’re not a bunch of lost lambs.”
The Fort Wayne Civic Theater presents La Cage Aux Folles
Arts United Center 303 E. Main Street
Saturday February 17 at 8 pm
Sunday, February 18 at 2 pm
Friday, February 23 at 8 pm
Saturday, February 24 at 8 pm
Friday March 2 at 8 PM
Saturday March 3 at 8 PM
Sunday March 4 at 2 PM
Tickets: _$30 Adults_$25 Seniors_$17 Age 23 and under
For tickets call (260) 424-5220 or online at fwcivic.org
Box office open Monday through Friday, noon to 6pm at 303 E. Main Street, Arts United Center