Saturday, August 27, 2016

Memo From the RTC: La Cage… Denouement, Cheri

My last column in The Wave on La Cage... I promise. The love between the cast members goes on though, with some people saying this was one of the greatest experiences of their lives.
Photos by Rob Mintzes.

Friday Aug. 26, 2016
Memo From the RTC: La Cage… Denouement, Cheri
By Norm Scott

A woman in a hot yoga class said, “I would have paid $100 to see the RTC production of La Cage on Broadway.” “Can’t beat 18 bucks and  free parking,” I said.  “And the chance to see a fellow-yoga class member speak French.”

And there was a heckuva lot of French being thrown around during the 10 sold-out performances of the RTC production of La Cage Aux Folles. RTC master yogi and master set builder Tony Homsey, turning from carpentry to acting, epitomized linguistic par excellence with his “ze feesh are rrrrunning well monsieur” as he walked across the stage with his partner in crime, Curtis Wanderer, who was carrying “ze feesh” on “ze feeshing pole”. The appearance of the Tony-Curtis dynamic duo on the RTC stage in their cute French striped tee shirts resulted in peals of delightful laughter among RTC regulars. I had been hoping to see them appear as members of the female-impersonating Le Cagelles. Maybe next time.

We also heard palatable French accents from Jacob the maid, played by Matt Smilardi who brought down the house with every appearance on stage in yet another outfit and  Jaqueline, played by the lovely Jodee Timpone, who adds grace and elegance to every production. Some audience members thought Jodee was really French. Jodee has always been one of my all-time RTC favorites even before I had the opportunity to appear in productions and hang out back stage with her.

“A mother and 2 daughters” theme was played out by the East New York-by way of Trinidad trio of mom Denise Eversley and her singing daughters Renee and Jannicke Steadman, both of whom appeared as part of the chorus in A Little Shop of Horrors. I found out Denise can also sing like a charm when she was saddled with the task of being my dance partner in the “Best of Times”. That I dared try to dance is a tribute to chorographer supreme Nicola DePierro Nellen (whose beautiful year old daughter Shea often graced us backstage, a child whose expressions are so vivid she can stop traffic).

I’ve said it before and I will keep blasting it from the rooftop – the great Chaz Peacock’s performance as Albin/Zaza, a “transvestite/homosexual” blew people away. I didn’t think he could ever top his hysterical Zero Mostel role as Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum or the deep and dark Jud Fry in Oklahoma. Chaz can act and sing in any role and as a stout 30ish black man his talent overrides any hesitancy on the part of directors. If they were casting the role of the Yiddish Tevye for a production of Fiddler, Chaz could pull it off.

He made a wonderful speech in the dressing room before we went on for our final performance last Sunday, thanking co-star John Heffernan who played his lover and life-long partner, Georges (who identifies himself in the play as “just one plain – non-transvestite homosexual”). Chaz said the compliments he has been receiving for his performance were great but John as a stage and acting partner helped make that possible. I haven’t said enough about the professionalism of John Heffernan who held his own as an actor, singer and dancer next to the Chaz powerhouse.  What a pleasure John is to work with. John, appearing to be in his mid-forties, is tall, blond, and a handsome leading man. He is also straight playing a gay man in love with a much shorter, 30ish, stoutish black man who is supposed to be over a dozen years older.  And he/they pull it off superbly. John is the founder of “The Rhapsody Players,” a group of singers who have raised 10s of thousands of dollars each year for charity.

Think of the guts it took not only to put on this daring play in Rockaway but to cast these two together. And the man with the guts is RTC founder and artistic director John Gilleece who managed all aspects of this production with a massive cast superbly. John has been around since the creation of the RTC so at times we take him for granted. A neighbor of mine asked me to introduce her to John and she was not only gushing about the show but also about how  her daughter as a child was in the original RTC on Beach 116th street. Think of that. How John Gilleece’s vision has morphed a tiny theater into a major powerhouse, not only in Rockaway, but attracting talent and audiences from all over the Metro area.

In Tony’s speech in the dressing room he made it clear that none of us would have been there without John and his producing partner Susan Jasper. They not only know how to pick a cast – other than continuing to put me in their musicals – but also choosing immense behind the scenes talents. Musical director Richard Louis-Pierre is a great musician, band leader and musical coach. No one puts in more time and effort for a show than Rich, a selfless unsung hero. Choreographer Nicola DiPierro Nellen does double duty as one of the hair dressers backstage, along with her mom, Phyllis De Pierro, who also appears in the Ensemble. When La Cagelles got standing ovations for their dancing, it was Nicola’s work being cheered. And let’s not forget the professional jobs in the lighting (Andrew Woodbridge) and sound booths (Daniel Fay and Andrew Feldman), along with the mother-hen stage managers Nora Meyers and Jenna Tipaldo, RTC jack of all trades Suzanne Riggs and costumiers Matt Smilardi and Susan Corning.

I can’t close my series of columns without listing the awesome Cagelles – 5 men (Erech Holder Hetmeyer, Anthony Melendez, Max Lamadrid, Atsushi Eda, Brian Sadowski) and 3 women (Kacie Reilly, Jacqueline Caruana and Gabrielle Mangano). And of course their great make-up artist Karlos Roman who made men look like women and women look like men looking like women. The cast bought Karlos a professional make-up case, the kind of thoughtfulness RTC people are known for, bringing Karlos, who had dressed up in drag for the cast party, to tears. Turns out he is a great performer himself. Truly the love flowed over the past 3 months and even days after the cast can’t stop posting on FB how much they love each other.

By Monday afternoon, Tony and crew had the stage clear and ready to build the set for Wait Until Dark. Karlos stopped by to work on Frank Caiati’s makeup as the villain for that show. Trust me – if you saw Frank walking down the street in this make-up you would run the other way.

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