Saturday, November 12, 2011

La Cage Aux Folles

Disappointing LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at Palace

When LA CAGE AUX FOLLES opened on Broadway in 1983, the gay rights movement was in its infancy. Harvey Fierstein’s book and Jerry Herman’s lyrics and music brought the subject of long term gay relationships, drag queens, societal attitudes toward same sex couples, and homosexual parenting to the fore. The show, which received nine Tony Award nominations, was, in the minds of some, very controversial and opened many topics for discussion and action.

The times, they have changed, and now the subject matter carries little, if any debate, but the themes are still significant. Most gays accept the philosophy of the song, I Am What I Am, which has become the homosexual communities’ unofficial national anthem. The song is a defiant statement of the need for self pride: It's my world, That I want to have a little pride, My world, And it's not a place I have to hide in, Life's not worth a dam, Till I can say, I am what I am.

LA CAGE focuses on a gay couple in a committed, long term relationship. It’s Saint-Tropez, France. Georges, the manager of a nightclub featuring drag entertainment, and Albin, the star attraction, must deal with their son Jean-Michel’s impending engagement. The boy, George’s biological son, the result of a drunken tryst, has been mothered by Albin. What to do when the fiancée’s father is an ultra-conservative politician, and has insisted on meeting the parents. Of course farcical situations ensue, interlaced with moving emotional moments.

The show’s melodic and memorable score includes A Little More Mascara, With Anne on My Arm, Look Over There, The Best of Times, and the title tune.

I like musicals with a message, and, since LA CAGE is filled with vital themes for life including the need for positive self-esteem, the stand against narrow minded thinking, and homophobia, it ranks as one of my favorite shows.

Therefore, the version now on stage, being presented as part of the Broadway series, was a major disappointment.

On the positive side, Christopher Sieber’s Albin is top notch. Sieber has a great voice, sings meaning just not words, plays both comedy and drama to the hilt, and creates a consistent characterization. Billy Harrigan Tighe gives a nice textured performance as Jean-Michel. Allison Blair McDowell is a charming Anne. Petite Gay Marshall adds a lot personality to the proceedings as restaurant owner Jacqueline. The orchestra is good, with special attention to trumpet player Bill Dowling.

On the other hand, in the original production the Les Cagelles, were a gorgeous line of dancers whose gender was guessed at until they removed their wigs at the end of the show. Not so in this whittled down production. The six dancers were masculine and played for laughs rather than creating illusion. This is typical of Terry Johnson’s directing. He seems more interested in farce and slapstick than in the show’s meaningful themes.

Jeigh Madjus knows no restraint as Jacob, the family’s “maid.” He goes so overboard that he becomes a caricature who blows the natural humorous lines by overdoing the fey.

Lynn Page’s choreography was uncreative and generally plodding, even in the usually spectacular birdcage number.

The biggest flaw in the production, was the wooden performance of George Hamilton as Georges. He displayed about as much charisma as his cardboard cutout in the theatre’s lobby. It’s a wonder that Sieber could develop such a fine Albin playing opposite a performance which made so little attempt to build rapport between the two.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: In spite of a wonderful script, great music, and a fine performance by Christopher Sieber, LA CAGES AUX FOLLES is a disappointment. The barebones production lacks the dynamic soul to make it a meaningful and fully entertaining evening of theatre.