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La Cage aux Folles

La Cage aux Folles
George Hamilton and
Christopher Sieber

There are two reasons to see the La Cage aux Folles tour, currently at the Pantages. Neither of them is George Hamilton. There's no way to sugarcoat this: Hamilton is badly miscast in the role of Georges, and nearly threatens to bring down the entire show. When he first comes on stage, welcoming us to the nightclub, any excitement that had been created by the Jerry Herman overture simply dissipates. Hamilton seems like he's half a beat behind, even though there's no music playing. There's no charm or presence here; just an actor who means well, but can't keep up. To be sure, throughout the production, he hits the occasional arch comic line; but, in those instances, it seems that some of the laughs he earns come from audience surprise that he actually nailed one.

Despite that, this production is worth is seeing. The first reason is the production itself. Scaled-down from the original, the Cagelles' production numbers are more cabaret than Ziegfeld Follies—the good, clean, fun of 1983 Broadway's version of a drag show has now become good, dirty fun. It's a touch grittier, and there's no more "reveal" at the curtain call, in which a surprised audience discovers which Cagelles were male and which female. This isn't an idealized view of a drag show with unlimited resources, but a more realistic bunch of hard-working guys in drag who sometimes complain during the numbers and miss steps. And if you think about it, you might realize, as I did, that mainstream America probably wasn't ready for this La Cage aux Folles back in 1983. Watching this production now, and thinking about that production then, really brings to mind the genius of the show—the mainstream musical that made its political statement in a way we were ready to hear at the time. And now look at La Cage nearly 30 years later—the homophobic villain is very nearly a comical buffoon; and the audience welcomes the show's leads' final kiss in a way that would have been unthinkable in '83. I'm not saying the struggle for civil rights is over and won; but this La Cage aux Folles has moments where it feels suspiciously like Hairspray, a feel-good musical in which the audience is invited to laugh at outdated biases, and celebrate how far we've come.

The second reason to go is to watch Christopher Sieber's portrayal of Albin, which is worth the price of admission. At times, he seems like he's doing Harvey Fierstein doing Albin, but most of time, he's bringing his own interpretation to the party. When he starts on "I Am What I Am"—a song that has definitely taken on its own life outside the musical, as an anthem for the out and proud—it seems like he's embarking on an impossible task. It's almost like watching an actor attack a well-known Shakespeare soliloquy, as the audience wonders what new take on it he can possible have. But Sieber's Albin has been working up to this from the start of the play; Albin has been simmering all along and he's ready to explode. And this isn't the diva-like petulant anger he showed when he was late for his performance; this is a real human being who feels real human betrayal and it's about damn time that real human anger comes out of him. More than that, Sieber sure can sing, so when his Albin is demanding the respect he deserves, he grabs you vocally and makes it impossible to turn away.

During the number, Hamilton's Georges walks on stage behind Sieber's Albin. You can barely see him in the half-light, and the character has the good sense not to interrupt his partner's catharsis. The image is fairly symbolic of the entire production. Hamilton may be the man on the posters, but when you get inside, he's strictly background while Sieber is in the spotlight.

La Cage aux Folles runs at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through July 22, 2012. For tickets and information, see www.BroadwayLA.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.lacage.com/news.html. Pantages Theatre. Sonia Friedman Productions, Ltd., David Babani, Barry and Fran Weissler, Networks Presentations and Edwin W. Schloss, Robert/Beverly Bartner and Norman/Alice Tulchin, Broadway Across America, Matthew Mitchell, Independent Presenters Network, Nederlander Presentations, Inc., Harriet Newman Leve, Allen Spivak, in association with George Hamilton Productions present the Menier Chocolate Factory Production of La Cage aux Folles. Music & lyrics by Jerry Herman; Book by Harvey Fierstein; based on the play La Cage aux Folles by Jean Poiret. Scenic Design Tim Shortall; Costume Design Matthew Wright; Lighting Design Nick Richings; Sound Design Jonathan Deans; Wig & Makeup Design Richard Mawbey. Associate Scenic Designer Bryan Johnson; Associate Lighting Designer Vivien Leone; Associate Sound Designer Brian Hsieh; Costume Coordinator Jessica Worsnop; Original Chocolate Factory Set Design by David Farley; Assistant Director Kristen Harris; Associate Choreographer Nicholas Cunningham. Music Supervisor Todd Ellison; Musical Coordinator John Miller; Music Director Joey Chancey; Casting Duncan Stewart and Company; Tour Booking Agency The Booking Group, Meredith Blair; Tour Press & Marketing Anita Kloniak & Associates, Inc. Production Manager Hector Guivas; Production State Manager Michael McGoff; Company Manager Bill Schaeffer; General Management Dawn Kusinski, Gentry & Associates; Executive Producer Alecia Parker & Kary Walker. Orchestrations & Dance Arrangements Jason Carr; Choreography by Lynne Page; Directed by Terry Johnson.

Cast:
Georges - George Hamilton
"Les Cagelles"
Angelique - Matt Anctil
Bitelle - Logan Keslar
Chantal - Donald C. Shorter, Jr.
Hanna - Mark Roland
Mercedes - Terry Lavell
Phaedra - Trevor Downey
Francis - Dale Hensley
Babette - Suellen Estey
Jacob - Jeigh Madjus
Albin - Christopher Sieber
Jean-Michel - Michael Lowney
Anne- Allison Blair McDowell
Colette - Katie Donohue
Etienne - Wilson Bridges
Tabarro - Danny Vaccaro
M. Renaud - Bernard Burak Sheredy
Mme. Renaud - Cathy Newman
M. Dindon - Bernard Burak Sheredy
Mme. Dindon - Cathy Newman
Waiter - Todd Thurston


Photo: Paul Kolnik


- Sharon Perlmutter






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