La Cage aux Folles
It’s been nearly a generation since the original production of "La Cage aux Folles" premiered on Broadway in 1983 and it’s been almost as long (1987) since a major touring company has brought "La Cage" to North Texas. This dry spell ended Tuesday night when the touring company of the 2010 Tony-winning Broadway revival opened at the Music Hall in Fair Park starring the eternally bronzed George Hamilton and Broadway champ Christopher Seiber.
It was worth the wait. Tony-winning director Terry Johnson stripped "La Cage" down to the studs, focusing on the story, emotions, and the relationships between the leading characters. This re-staging is not unlike the bare-bones musical phenomenon "Chicago." It may seem impossible to imagine that a musical featuring a chorus of drag queens would benefit from the ’less is more’ adage, but it does.
At its core, you’ve seen the plot for "La Cage aux Folles" countless times on stage or in film, with songs or without; long-time married couple’s routine life is thrown a curve ball, the couple outlast the obstacle only to re-discover how much they love each other. The twist in "La Cage" is of course that the couple is a gay, male couple.
Georges and Albin live a comfortable life in St. Tropez where Georges owns and emcees the colorful drag club "La Cage aux Folles." Albin, in drag as the fabulous ZaZa, is star of the show. Their routine life is turned upside down when Georges biological son, Jean-Michel, returns home to announce that he is getting married to the daughter of a high-profile conservative.
Jean-Michel’s future in-laws want to meet his parents and he asks Georges to de-glamour the apartment and push Albin to the deepest corners of a locked closet.
The plot, even with its gay twist, may sound antiquated, but remember that the original Broadway production premiered at the same time that AIDS reared its ugly head. However, the dream team of gay director Arthur Laurents ("West Side Story," "Gypsy"), playwright Harvey Fierstein ("Torch Song Trilogy," "Hairspray") and composer and lyricist Jerry Herman ("Hello Dolly," "Mame") massaged the source material (a 1973 French play) into a smash hit and made musical theater history by featuring a male couple as the romantic leads.
The production of "La Cage aux Folles" now playing in Dallas is mostly sensational. The big asterisk here of course is George Hamilton as Georges. If vampires do exist, George Hamilton belongs to their clan, because he looks marvelous.
In his opening scene George appears as the club’s emcee introducing the long-legged, extremely limber ’girls’ known as "Les Cagelles." For a hopeful moment it seems like this stunt casting may in fact be the real deal. Then the show progresses and George has to deliver lines and gasp, sing. The only lines that George can deliver with aplomb are the occasional zingers. And as for singing...think Pierce Brosnan in "Mamma Mia."
On the other side of the rainbow though, is Broadway vet Christopher Seiber who delivers a fully committed tour de force, electrifying performance as Albin. In a better world, Seiber would be a household name because he is uninhibited, hysterical and an uber-talented belter.
At the end of Act One, when Albin is told he is not invited to meet Jean-Michel’s future in-laws, Seiber processes Albin’s spectrum of emotions in the shows most well known song, the adopted gay anthem, "I Am What I Am." The solo number is the exact opposite of "Rose’s Turn" in "Gypsy." Rose has a full-blown meltdown as she realizes the true motivations for everything she’s done.
Albin starts the number fragile and broken before recognizing his self-worth, defiantly proclaiming his pride in himself, every feather and spangle included. Seiber soars and takes you with him, goose bumps and all. Seiber’s performance, especially this Act One closer, is why musical theater fans go to the theater.
Set Designer Tim Shortall pulls off one of the night’s biggest illusions by presenting the Music Hall at Fair Park in drag. Shortall manages to make the gigantic performing venue feel and look more intimate in the style of a glitzy cabaret club. The fabulous "Les Cagelles" appear and dance throughout the show, also fitting for a nightclub setting. They give the show a more grounded realism than say, a Rodgers and Hammerstein, song-out-of-nowhere style show.
This production of "La Cage" almost has it all (sigh, George): an old-fashioned structured plot, lush, memorable, hummable tunes, long-limbed and limber eye-candy, a showcase role and a theme that was ahead of its time in 1983 and still resonates and remains relevant today.
"La Cage aux Folles" continues through April 22 at The Music Hall at Fair Park, 909 1st Avenue, Dallas. For info or tickets visit http://www.dallassummermusicals.org