Heart, soul spill off the stage in isle’s moving ‘La Cage’ musical

“La Cage aux Folles” is not a simple show to produce, nor is it an epical undertaking that requires a gigantic cast and crew to make it all work. What it does require is an exceptional chorus, two immensely talented leads, lavish lighting, a colorful moving set and a massive amount of quality costumes. Maui is not Broadway and this “La Cage” is not unblemished, but there is very little to critique in this wonderful local production. The only constructive criticism I could share would be in comparison to the large-scale expectations of a city like San Francisco.

As master of ceremonies, Bob Wills’ performance as Georges is nothing less than spectacular. He presents an MGM-polished, Van Johnson-esque offering, but also hits the dramatic, loving father and husband notes poignantly. When his lush voice is paired with Steven Dascoulias’ as Albin (“With You on My Arm,” “Song on the Sand”), “La Cage” is the male equivalency of Lia Krieg and Casey Murphy in 2011’s “Chicago.”

The worth-the-price-of-admission-alone moment comes at the close of act one. Georges tells Albin he is too flamboyant to attend the meet-the-parents dinner party with their son, Jean-Michel (Jeff Brackett). Father and son have concocted a reuse to tone down the gay so the future in-laws (David Negaard, Gina Duncan) will give their blessing and allow Jean-Michel to marry daughter Anne (Christina Sutrov). As Dascoulias delivers his inspiring “I Am What I Am,” many a sniffle is heard, followed by thundering applause. Heart and soul pour off the stage in this remarkable Zaza number, reminiscent of a commanding Judy Garland performance. The scene is so eloquent and emotive that I question if anyone’s politics won’t be tested by Dascoulias’ pain.

Also of note are the performances of Lisa Paulson as Jacqueline; and Brackett, Sutrov and the entire cast on the rousing, clap-along, show-stopper “The Best of Times.”

Costume designer Sarah Loney has outdone herself, and Krista Fernandez’s moving set does so fluidly. Kalani Whitford’s choreography is executed extremely well, especially by “Cagelles” Jason Wolf and Felicia Chernicki. The “La Cage” band (William Asher, Perry Gragas, Cody Sarmiento and Phil Smith) is one of the finest “little orchestras” of recent history.

The test of a great musical is – do you leave humming the tunes for several days? That is the case with “La Cage,” and all these components working together equals Maui OnStage’s finest production of the 2013-14 season.