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Best of times at SF Playhouse’s ‘La Cage aux Folles’

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Clockwise (from top left), Nikita Burshteyn, Ryan Drummond, Samantha Rose and John Treacy Egan play the happy family in San Francisco Playhouse’s “La Cage Aux Folles.” (Courtesy Jessica Palopoli)
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San Francisco Playhouse has turned its cozy second floor theater into a Saint Tropez nightclub where people of all persuasions are welcome — to excellent effect.

The club is La Cage aux Folles; it’s also the title of the multi-Tony Award-winning 1983 musical (by Harvey Fierstein and composer Jerry Herman, based on a French play by Jean Poiret) about a longtime gay couple whose world is rocked when their straight son announces his engagement.

Playhouse artistic director Bill English, famed for his “empathy gym,” practices what he preaches at the helm of this truly heartwarming, feel-good production.

The show’s touching ballads and quieter moments are every bit as fulfilling as the big, glitzy, feather-filled numbers, which are executed with humor, verve and grace by the all-around excellent cast.
As Georges, the club proprietor and master of ceremonies, Ryan Drummond wonderfully delivers the tender “Song on the Sand” to his flamboyant partner Albin (John Treacy Egan), also the star drag queen, Zaza.

As Zaza, Egan excels in the Act 1 empowerment tune “I Am What I Am,” after Albin learns that Georges’ son Jean-Michel (the appealing James Franco/Tom Cruise-lookalike Nikita Burshteyn) doesn’t want him to meet his fiancee’s ultra-conservative parents.

Of course, everything turns out swell, as exemplified in “The Best of Times,” the refreshingly old-fashioned tune audiences hum on the way out, in a show that, seemingly paradoxically, promotes family values of the kind practiced in San Francisco.

Conductor Dave Dobrusky on keyboard and the five-member band sound like a greater number than they are, providing rousing accompaniment from the outset.

Of course, “La Cage aux Folles” wouldn’t be the delight it is without its terrific drag numbers, and the ensemble — Morgan Dayley, Lee Ann Payne, Alex Hsu, Brian Conway, John Paul Gonzalez and Nicholas Yenson as Les Cagelles — carries out Kimberly Richards’ feisty choreography with panache, confidently donning fun, flashy costumes by Abra Berman, makeup by Creme Fatale and wigs by Laundra Tyme.

The revolving set (designed by Jacquelyn Scott), which cleverly morphs from the nightclub to Georges and Albin’s apartment, is also notable. There’s a little cage on the end, and as it rotates, the audience gets a peep-show style peek at performers in semi-compromising positions.

REVIEW
La Cage aux Folles
Presented by San Francisco Playhouse
Where: 450 Post St., second floor, S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 16
Tickets: $30 to $125
Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org

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