‘The Golden Cage’ was timely.
With book, music and lyrics by Grammy-nominated Deborah Henson-Conant, The Golden Cage is a magical trip through an original and modern fairytale that simultaneously feels familiar and new. A blend of The Wizard of Oz-style escapism and Waiting for Godot-like philosophic layers, The Golden Cage has the ability to both inspire and entertain across generations.
The Golden Cage is an acclaimed musical about a mythical cage, alluring on the outside but confining on the inside. It follows the story of Boris, a hybrid bird-man who spent his life searching for the cage but now finds himself stuck outside it, and Alphea, a dramatic diva trapped inside the cage, yearning for freedom but too afraid to venture out. Combining lyrical musical theatre, operetta, and song-cycle, the play explores the self-imposed cages we create and the vital importance of human connection in breaking free.
In April 2022, the creators of the show filmed it live at the CreateTheater Festival in New York City, where it received multiple awards, including Best Musical Score, Best Actor, and Most Innovative Production. The subsequent 10 months were dedicated to editing the video and enhancing the sound, resulting in a fully immersive experience that brings the audience closer to the action than a front-row seat ever could.
The aesthetics of this production, lighting, sets and costumes, were simply beautiful. Outside of the expected LEDs and par cans to set the mood and focus, Michael Cole, lighting designer, extended the world of the musical by adding animated and stylised projections, designed by Peter Leibold & Paul Deziel, to the top of the rear wall. Another highlight was the use of silhouettes when Boris and Alphea first meet, and Alphea is trying to figure out whether to be scared or brave.
Divided into two parts, the scenic design by Tyler R. Herald consisted of an “ordinary” but messy living room separated from a bare stage by a curved and feathered half semi-circle. Part cage, part nest, and most definitely a self-imposed human prison, the set design perfectly supported the telling of the story.
The costumes, designed by Evan Prizant, were a true highlight of this production. With elements of patchwork, and a recycle-meets-apocalyptic blend of items on each character, the costumes appeared to pay homage to a very high-quality children’s theatre while simultaneously reflecting the makeshift style of bird’s nests.
Direction by R. Lee Kratzer and Music Direction by Nevada Lozano held hands through the mostly-sung performance. Limited by both stage and screen, the audio was superbly balanced and the blocking was never stagnant.
In the leading role of Boris, Christopher Isolano was remarkable. A Pace University Musical Theater program graduate, Isolano made his Off-Broadway debut with this show in 2022 and was previously celebrated for his work on children’s show ‘Petunia’s Big Day!’. In his role as Boris he delivered a dynamic performance, vocally, physically and in acting choices. While the character itself is half-bird, Isolano gave Boris a great deal of depth and humanity. His portrayal was filled with realism that moved viewers emotionally.
Similarly, Maddie Allen as Alphea was infallible. Having graduated from Syracuse University’s Musical Theatre program, Allen’s credits include Footloose (Great Plains Theater) and Rent (Interlochen Arts). As Alphea, Allen was able to inject layers of humour and moments of calm among the challenging emotions explored in the story. Her vocals were an absolute treat, and the chemistry developed with Isolano permeated the screen (and no doubt the stage).
Audience members will each take something different from The Golden Cage; perhaps a reminder of the limits we place upon ourselves, perhaps the motivation to seek out the treasure we desire, or perhaps simply some clarity about the emotional impact of recent years of isolation and lockdowns.
Both a timely and universal story, The Golden Cage has been cleverly crafted by Henson-Conant and a team of exceptionally skilled creatives – and fortunately for those in far-off lands, is now accessible around the globe thanks to streaming technologies.
Photos by Rachel-Monteleone