La Cage aux Folles
Jerry Herman’s Tony-winning musical "La Cage aux Folles," based on Jean Poiret’s French stage farce and its popular film adaptation, slammed open the closet door on Broadway in 1983, just prior to the breakout of the AIDS crisis.
Its audacious story of a longtime gay couple -- a club owner and his cross-dressing "wife" -- imparted a powerful message of tolerance during the still-uptight 1980s. This was risky material for a mega-bucks Broadway extravaganza that needed to appeal to huge audiences to score a success.
Legendary songwriter Herman ("Hello, Dolly!," "Mame") and accomplished librettist Harvey Fierstein ("Newsies") broke major ground by depicting a story such as this in mainstream entertainment, though the show’s widespread appeal also had much to do with its triumph as an old-fashioned tuner, in all of its glitzy, tap-dancing glory. Shows in this style were in short supply in that decade.
Broadway’s second revival of the iconic show is now in its national tour, having settled into the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood for two weeks. The reported splendor of the Broadway version of this Tony-winning revival seems tarnished in this road edition, which suffers from one miscast star, an uneven cast, and general signs of being ragged around the edges.
The frequently employed gambit of signing a well-known star from decades past to helm a major musical, in hopes of ensuring ticket sales, needn’t always be a liability. But the enlistment of 1960s-70s film heartthrob George Hamilton to play dapper club owner Georges for this rendition proves to be a misstep.
Hamilton’s forte is not as a musical star; his singing and dancing are less than serviceable here. Furthermore, his characterization is stiff, lacking the requisite spark of a sophisticated Continental showman. Sadly, his portrayal feels phoned-in, which is the last thing a rollicking musical comedy needs.
Thankfully, Hamilton’s costar, Christopher Sieber as the audacious drag performer Albin/Zaza, is a stellar entertainer who finds the ideal combination of warmth, campy wit and charisma to make his characterization delightful and endearing, and his production numbers are show-stopping.
Sinking his teeth into the now-famous gay-rights anthem, "I Am What I Am," Sieber ends the first-act in a smashing tour-de-force turn, and also scores in the delicious title number and in leading the beloved Herman group number, "The Best of Times."
Otherwise, the ensemble is spotty. Michael Lowney sings capably but gives a wan characterization as Georges’ heterosexual son, Jean-Michel, whose engagement to gasp! -- a girl -- sends the La Cage household into a tizzy.
Allison Blair McDowell, as Jean-Michel’s demure fiancée, Anne, gives a capable performance. Lacking humor in the choice roles of bigoted politician Dindon and his wife are Bernard Burak Sheredy and Cathy Newman.
Standing out as the outrageous butler Jacob, who insists on being called a maid and tries mightily to live up to that designation, is Jeigh Madjus, a resourceful slapstick comedian who is guilty of some forgivable scene-stealing.
A strong salute is due to the dazzling and athletic six-member Las Cagelles chorus line (Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Donald C. Shorter, Jr., Mark Roland, Terry Lavell, Trevor Downey), whose gender-bending antics in Lynne Page’s amazing dance numbers provide plenty of fun.
Less impressive is the overall direction of the show, attributed to Terry Johnson. Transitions between scenes and songs are sometimes less than eloquent, and the production lacks the polish of the original Broadway version. This touring edition, which has been on the road for a while, has perhaps become a bit tarnished during that time.
Admittedly, this revival, which originated in London prior to going to Broadway, was conceived as a closer reflection of the story’s seedy intimate cabaret than was the lavish 1983 original staging, which favored opulence over realism. Yet the flaws observed during this local run appear to be more due to lack of precision than conscious artistic choices.
Thankfully, the marvelous Herman score and the star performance of Sieber atone for some of the shortcomings. Novice users who didn’t observe the magnificence of the original 1983 production might find less to quibble about in this tour edition of a milestone musical.
"La Cage aux Folles," runs through July 22 at the Pantages Theatre, 6332 Hollywood Blvd., in L.A. For info or tickets, call 800-982-2787 or visit broadwayla.org