Pumped-up ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ revival a travesty of the original hit
BY HEDY WEISS Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org December 22, 2011 12:10AM
‘LA CAGE AUX FOLLES’
◆ Through Jan. 1
◆ Bank of America Theatre,
18 W. Monroe
◆ (800) 775-2000;
Updated: January 24, 2012 8:13AM
Years before the whole notion of gay marriage became a cause celebre, a pair of Frenchmen by the names Georges and Albin already were cohabiting in the French Riviera resort town of Saint-Tropez. The pair’s unofficial marriage came courtesy of “La Cage Aux Folles,” Jean Poiret’s 1973 play for the French stage — a story that went on to become a hit film and by 1983, a hugely popular Broadway musical by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein that more or less announced that the gay rights movement had become thoroughly mainstream.
Now the national touring production of the show’s recent Broadway revival has arrived at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre, with George Hamilton as Georges, the manager of La Cage, a racy nightclub featuring transvestite acts, and Christopher Sieber as Albin, his romantic partner of 20 years, who just happens to be the “star attraction” drag queen at the club. Sadly, the production is a travesty of the original.
The tipoff that something was radically wrong came even before the official start of the show, as the shrillest of drag queens perched herself at the front of the stage and began chatting with the audience. Vulgar and amped to the max, she engaged in cheesy, equal-opportunity insults and set the completely wrong mood for this musical.
Yes, times have changed greatly since this show first arrived on Broadway, so maybe British director Terry Johnson thought he had to be broader and more explicit to connect with a contemporary audience. But in doing so he has cheapened the show and lost every ounce of genuine feeling the story was capable of generating. Instead of trusting the material (no matter how dated), he has just pumped it up and coarsened it. Most crucially, the genuinely heartfelt relationship between Georges and Albin at the core of the story is trivialized and lacks its usual power to transcend the glitz and sexually reversed artifice of everything else.
Hamilton, dapper but wooden, tries to underplay his role, but he sounds mechanical. Sieber, whose range of voices is impressive, is showy but never fully registers his pain at being casually dismissed by Jean-Michel (Georges’ “accidental” son, who Albin nurtured). And even his full-voiced rendering of the anthemic “I Am What I Am” doesn’t quite connect as it can. In addition, there is very little chemistry between the two leads.
The chorus of transvestite “Cagelles,” who should be the essence of “illusion,” is simply grotesque. So is Lynne Page’s choreography, although a “Black Swan” birds-in-a-cage sequence does have its moments. And there is sharp timing and a manic energy to the “Cocktail Counterpoint” number in which Monsieur Dindon, the town’s morals fanatic, is caught in a storm of mixed signals as he and his wife meet the “parents” of Jean-Michel, his daughter Anne’s fiance.
Some musicals lend themselves to reinvention, but others are so much the product of their particular time that they need to remain true to their vintage. This “La Cage” has been very poorly bottled.