La Cage aux Folles

‘La Cage’ brings Darcelle to tears

The big showy musical in the Newmark reveals a lot of heart to go with its sequins and sashes – and Portland's legendary drag queen agrees

Darcelle is tearing up. La Cage gets her every time, she confesses, even though she already saw this particular show on opening night: yesterday. “It’s just so real,” she says. “It’s our lives.”

Portland’s most legendary drag queen and the proprietor of Darcelle XV made me do a double-take at intermission during the Sunday matinee of La Cage aux Folles in the Newmark Theatre.  Incognito in shorts and a muted-patterned, short-sleeved men’s button-up (and if you must know, #nomakeup), she resembled any older gentleman at the theater until I overheard her declare from the seat directly behind me, “Debbie Reynolds wore my jewelry when she was in town.” Of course I couldn’t help but turn around, introduce myself, and invite her to chat after the show. Naturally, I was curious what the mother of all drag mothers loved and hated about this production.

Norby and Thiessen: made for each other. Photo: Pixie Dust Productions

Norby and Thiessen: made for each other. Photo: Pixie Dust Productions

After the curtain call, we headed for the lobby, with Darcelle being stopped every few feet by fans. Once there, I asked, “What did you think? What did you like?” The waterworks welled up as she began to list: favorite musical number, Song on the Sand; favorite scene, George and Albert at the café; favorite aspect, “The characters!” George and Albert remind her of herself and 47-year partner Roxy Neuhardt.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are; it’s how you feel about each other,” she says, choking up. “And it’s also so true that (quoting a show lyric) we are what we are!” This undoes me, and now we’re both crying. Though this show preaches most directly to the LGBT chorus line, this mantra reminds us all to self-accept our many facets and present authentically to others, no matter what the reaction.

Phew. Okay. Enough sentimentality! Time to pull it together, like the tightest girdle, and critique La Cage from hair to heel. 

Pixie Dust Productions’ remount and major expansion of a 2013 version at Lakewood Theatre, as Darcelle puts it, “scales up” quite nicely, with more room for tall heels and hair, tango and tap-dancing. Return performances are polished to a gloss, and shine brighter with the elaborate new trimmings that director Greg Tamblyn has added.