You’d kill for those shoes. And those legs.
That’s your initial impression of the touring production of the Tony Award winning 2010 Broadway revival of La Cage Aux Folles.
The young men playing the gender-blending drag entertainers Les Cagelles—Matt Anctil (Angelique), Logan Keslar (Bitelle), Donald C. Shorter, Jr. (Chantal), Mark Roland (Hanna), Trevor Downey (Mercedes) and Dale Hensley (Phaedra)—possess gams that rival Beyonce’s in the “Put a Ring On It” music video, plus acrobatic and balletic prowess that would wow even veteran audiences of Cirque du Soleil-type contortions. Only, like Ginger Rogers, they do it backwards and in heels. They also look damn fine in the lingerie-inspired, corseted costumes by Matthew Wright.
The eye-popping athleticism and vampy vogueing of Les Cagelles is just one of the vivacious pleasures of this revival, which, on Broadway, starred Kelsey Grammer and Douglas Hodge as, respectively, Georges, the suave owner of a glitzy drag queen nightclub in Saint Tropez, and his longtime partner Albin, the club’s diva-like main attraction.
In the touring incarnation, Georges is played by the debonair and perpetually tanned George Hamilton, and his lover Albin is played with great emotion and infectious playfulness by Christopher Sieber. You just can’t get enough of Mr. Sieber as the demanding, theatrical, but absurdly cuddly Albin. He shows us all the sides of the character—maternal, matronly, melodramatic, but also Mr. Sieber gives Albin a thunderous, Mama Rose-like moment in his shattering, triumphant delivery of the show’s signature anthem “I Am What I Am.”
La Cage debuted in 1984 and featured an old-fashioned rouser of a score by Jerry Herman and a witty, soignée book by Harvey Fierstein that captured the sentimentality and scandalous fun of the 1973 French movie, also titled “La Cage Aux Folles.”
Both the film (and its 1996 American version, “The Birdcage” with Nathan Lane and Robin Williams) and the musical show men in love and in wigs, but at its heart it celebrates love, tolerance and family loyalties, whether filial or show biz. Georges and Albin and are devoted couple who treat their nightclub employees fairly and raised their son Jean-Michel (Billy Harrigan Tighe) with affection and acceptance. So when Jean-Michel asks them to pretend to be what they are not—a traditional heterosexual family—to impress the deeply conservative parents of his bride-to-be, he challenges the very foundation of what Georges and Albin believe in.
Of course, this request by Jean-Michel also provides ample opportunity for wildly farcical situations, as Albin tries—unsuccessfully—to subdue his natural flamboyance and Georges struggles desperately to keep the bugle-beaded bawdiness of the club from interfering with his ruse. Needless to say, their attempts to get their John Wayne on are hilarious, as Georges and Albin are not only constantly betrayed by their true nature, but also by the outré antics of their tres gay butler, Jacob (Jeigh Madjus), a fellow who would make RuPaul seem as buttoned-up as Mitt Romney in comparison.
Mr. Sieber is an unmitigated delight as Albin, whether ruing the ravages of middle age in “A Little More Mascara” or leading the troupe through the calibrated build-up of the climactic “The Best of Times.” Like the born showman—or show girl—that Albin is, much Mr. Sieber’s behavior is goosed up and larger than life, but he also revels in the smaller gestures and details, such as his nuanced affection for Georges that expresses volumes about established relationships that still got it going on. Mr. Hamilton very much looks the part of Georges, dashing and suave, and he expresses contagious joy over everything Mr. Sieber’s Albin says and does.
Their relationship rings beautifully true, which is the strongest aspect of Mr. Hamilton’s portrayal. His singing is game, but rather uneven, and he stumbled over lines and seemed completely lost at one point. However, the expert company quickly covers over any lapses. Even they could not compensate for lulls in the action through much of the first act, although the limpid pace picks up admirably after Mr. Seiber’s pre-intermission call-to-arms rendition of “I Am What I Am,” an energy that dazzles until the show’s victorious, glittery-strewn finale.
La Cage Aux Folles runs thru Nov 6, 2011 at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw St., Baltimore, MD.
La Cage Aux Folles
Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman . book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Terry Johnson
The National Tour is presented at the Hippodrome Theatre
Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Running time: 2 hrs, 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission