Continuing its tradition of presenting non-traditional fare this time of year, the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company presents La Cage aux Folles, featuring some of Vancouver’s real-life drag stars as members of the chorus.
Set in their glitzy Saint-Tropez nightclub and home, La Cage aux Folles is the musical story of club owner Georges and his partner, and the club’s star attraction, Albin. When Georges’s son brings home his fiancée’s ultra-conservative parents home to meet them, the family’s relationship is tested.
Featuring the hit number “I Am What I Am”, made popular by Gloria Gaynor, director and choreographer Max Reimer has taken an already reduced revival edition of La Cage, given it more focus on the family and cast real Vancouver drag queens as members of the Les Cagelles chorus.
Reimer admits that casting real-life drag queens instead of the usual chorus boys wasn’t without its difficulties. But perhaps not for the reason some might immediately assume. “People thought we had a lot of courage because we might have to deal with divas, egos and drag queens not wanting to surrender to the overall concept. We had no issues in that regard at all,” said Reimer.
Knowing that drag queens don’t necessarily sing or act, Reimer is somewhat embarrassed when he admitted that singing wasn’t part of the audition process for this chorus. Relieved and pleasantly surprised, Reimer said that the drag queens that were cast can actually sing, making his back-up plans of using pre-recorded music from other cast members unnecessary. “There is no lip synching going on here,” he laughed.
Reimer also admits to having low expectations when it came to acting abilities. “I assumed they would be terrible and I was hugely surprised,” he said. “They might be drag queens playing drag queens but that doesn’t always save one from being a bad actor.”
Reimer says that by using improv, a skill set that associate director Cameron MacKenzie, himself a drag queen, realized would work, means he is getting some terrific performances from them. “Cameron instinctively went that route. Even some of the professional actors in the room are a little in awe at how some of the scenes could come together with a concept rather than with a series of directed blocking points.”
Greg Armstrong-Morris, who plays the role of the flamboyant Albin in the show, agreed, saying that at times the rest of the cast felt compelled to stick around and watch the drag performers when they could be off doing other things.
For Armstrong-Morris part of his own compulsion may have come from his time as a drag performer and his almost giddy delight in being part of the show. Having spent so much time as an actor figuring out how he fit into a specific role, Albin seems to have come for him as part of an actor’s perfect storm.
“This is the right time in my life, the right age, the right orientation,” said Armstrong-Morris. “I know what it’s like to be in a relationship long-term with a man, I know what it is like to do drag, I know a lot of those things that are a part of who Albin is and I can build from that point. Where I would spend a lot of time in other roles just figuring out the basics, this role allows me so much time to build on top of what I have already experienced.”
With the belief that theatre has the power to be both transformational and confirmational, Reimer sees the Playhouse’s holiday offerings like La Cage this year and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The Drowsy Chaperone in the previous two, to not be as untraditional as it might appear. “This is how the Playhouse can do something different in Vancouver that isn’t already being offered at this time of the year. For me any theme over the holidays should be an uplifting one, it should have elements of spectacle, celebration and family,”
And it is evident that Reimer has no doubt he and the Playhouse are doing just that; with its glitzy outer coating of the crazy night club and a sweet center of domestic reconciliation both he and Armstrong-Morris agreed: La Cage aux Folles is a big gay musical M&M.
La Cage aux Folles
26 November – 24 December 2011
A tuneful and touching tale of one family’s struggle to stay together … stay fabulous … and above all else, stay true to themselves! Visit http://www.vancouverplayhouse.com for tickets and information.
On December 20 the Playhouse presents a special one-night-only benefit performance will include a pre-show reception featuring drag royalty from Vancouver, delicious appetizers, and a silent auction with proceeds benefitting both the Playhouse and QMUNITY, BC’s leading queer resource centre. Visit www.iamlacage.com for more information.