Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Director-choreographer Matthew Gardiner and his designers have taken an interesting tack for the beloved 1983 musical by Jerry Herman (music and lyrics) and Harvey Fierstein (book), bringing the artifice in this theatrical world into focus at the sides of the main performing area. Lee Savage's multifaceted scenic design places dressing room areas at stage right and left, allowing the audience to watch six sleekly muscular dancers as they dress themselves in Frank Labovitz's most ingenious costumes, put on the wigs and headpieces designed by Anne Nesmith, and turn themselves into the glamorous chorus, the Cagelles.
Smith embodies Albin in all his idiosyncrasies and moods both on and offstage. The character is mercurial, sensitive, and deeply devoted to Georges (Brent Barrett), his partner of 20 years and owner of the St. Tropez drag nightclub where Albin performs as Zaza, and Jean-Michel (Paul Scanlan), the son they raised together. Most important, he knows exactly who he is and takes pride in his identity.
The role allows Smith to exercise all his theatrical muscles (including the ones that allow him to walk and dance in high heels) as Albin transforms himself into Zaza ("A Little More Mascara"), lashes out after a betrayal ("I Am What I Am," which begins introspectively, a cappella, and builds propulsively), and tries to learn a new set of mannerisms ("Masculinity"). All that and he barrels through the title song in a succession of costumes. Barrett is a perfect match for Smith, playing Georges as a slick showman (the gaudy tuxedo jackets, the voluminous hair) who loves Albin despite his temperamental moments.
The plot brings together Georges and Albina conventional couple in many wayswith the parents of Jean-Michel's fiancée Anne (spirited Jessica Lauren Ball). Her father Edouard Dindon (Mitchell Hébert) is a blunt right-wing politician railing against all forms of immorality and her mother Marie (Sherri L. Edelen) is sweetly naïve. Hébert's performance is another charming surprise as he demonstrates a previously underused talent for physical comedy.
DJ Petrosino shamelessly milks each laugh as Jacob, Albin's "maid," and Nova Y. Payton shines in the small role of Jacqueline.