'La Cage' musical says a lot about families

Thursday, February 12, 2009 | 11:17 a.m. CST; updated 7:24 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 12, 2009
Aric Jarvis plays Mercedes, a saucy member of La Cage night club's female impersonating performers, Les Cagelles. Kathy Peters accompanies the orchestra on piano. The Columbia Entertainment Co.'s presentation of "La Cage aux Folles" premieres at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

COLUMBIA — With auditions on Jan. 4-5 and rehearsals starting the next day, the cast of "La Cage aux Folles" has had a smaller-than-usual window to get the musical ready, director Judy Olson said.

The production by the Columbia Entertainment Company opens Thursday night and will run for three weekends.

If You Go

What: "La Cage aux Folles," presented by Columbia Entertainment Company.

When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12-14, 19-21 and 26-28; 2 p.m. Feb. 15, 22 and March 1.

Where: Columbia Entertainment Company; 1800 N. Nelwood Drive.

 Admission: Adults $12; seniors/children under 12 $10; Students with valid ID $11. Call the Columbia Entertainment reservation line at 474-3699 for tickets.

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Olson is a Stephens College graduate who went on to the Yale School of Drama. "I've been doing theater close to 50 years now," she said.

Her love for theater was evident at rehearsal one evening last week.

"Come on y'all, let's go!" Olson yelled from the back of the theater — she positioned herself there because she wanted to make sure she could hear everybody — as actors took the stage. She created a lighthearted atmosphere, joking at the start of rehearsal about spilling an entire bottle of Sprite on her pants.

"It's always fun," Olson had said earlier. "Even though we are really in a crunch for time, everyone has such a good humor about it, and they all are working very hard."

To put the musical together, they needed to break it down into categories, Olson said: costumes and the set; making sure actors had their lines memorized; and getting the dances and music down. About 20 people are in the cast. "There's always lots of people in musicals," Bill Farfan, who plays Georges, one of the leads, joked. "It's the law."

The plot of "La Cage aux Folles" is about two gay men whose son, Jean-Michel, intends to marry the daughter of conservative parents. Jean-Michel tries to hide his family's lifestyle when he brings his fiancée and in-laws to visit. What starts out smoothly turns to comedic chaos as the charade falls apart.

"The story is very funny, but very touching at the same time," Olson said. "It has a lot to say about families. Family is family." She said "La Cage" is one of her favorites to direct.

"The point is that all families are families who love each other and deserve to be together," Olson said. "This musical puts that message out there for the audience."

Farfan said his favorite part of the musical is working with the rest of the cast. "This is definitely a community theater," he said. "We get to experience the local talent, and then there are also the people that go on to do bigger things like Broadway. There's a mix of talent here."

Farfan is one of two players who doesn't have to dress in drag for "La Cage." Asked for makeup advice, show choreographer Carol Odor told the male actors, "I'd like to see more color, more reds, greens and blues."

Among the lyrics for the show is the line: "We love how it feels putting on heels and causing confusion." Aric Jarvis, who plays one of the dancers, said he doesn't mind the heels. "These ones are short," Jarvis said.

But Lance Wanner, who plays another dancer, disagreed. He was wearing sandals to this rehearsal. "I just have to give my feet a break," Wanner said.

As rehearsal continued, vocal music director Darla Lenz told the crew, "If you're going to make a mistake, make it loud." The energetic cast appeared to heed her advice as they began warming up, projecting so that the entire theater could hear every syllable.

"You know when you leave a musical and you find yourself humming along to one of the songs from it? Well, every single one of these songs is hummable," Olson said, smiling. "The music is amazing."

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