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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
La Cage aux Folles
By Jon Magaril
Twenty-four year-old Jean-Michel sets the plot in motion by telling Georges, his father, that he wants his birth mother at his upcoming wedding. But he wants Albin, who's performed all the other functions of a mother., to stay away. This would make a fairly traditional set-up for a dysfunctional family musical, except that the family is led by two men, behaving for most intents and purposes as husband and wife.
This broadly entertaining touring production springs from director Terry Johnson's Tony-winning Broadway revival. That, in turn, was based on his small-scale version at London's 180-seat Menier Chocolate Factory. Johnson transforms the La Cage aux Folles drag club, run by Georges and featuring Albin as drag diva Zaza, from the elegant original to something literally and figuratively in your face.
The basic staging conceit, echoing the one used in Sam Mendes' 1998 revival of Cabaret, places the entire show within the context of the club. Its proscenium, in a simply effective set by Tim Shortall, frames all locations, with a red curtain sometimes falling on scenes that take place in Georges and Albin's apartment. With added instances of physical transformation and doubling, Johnson emphasizes the theme of performance in even the most traditional social roles.
Broadway regular Christopher Sieber gives an authoritative star performance as Albin/Zaza. Tanning booth regular George Hamilton is an affable presence, but only makes a vivid impression when imitating John Wayne. The three decade difference in the actors' ages sets a challenge the production doesn't quite met. The family unit is the show's core and the connection between the two seems collegial rather than intimate.
As the inconsiderate Jean-Michel, Michael Lowney moves very well, but still steps into all the traps Fierstein unhelpfully puts in his way. In the New York production AJ Shively deftly revealed a layer of insecurity that helped us sympathize with his off-putting actions.
The Cagelles perform Lynne Page's propulsive choreography with galvanizing abandon. Jeigh Madjus is a delightful whirling dervish as the housekeeper whom Georges hired as a butler but who demands to be seen as a maid. Bernard Burak Sherady and Cathy Newman demonstrate impressive range by underplaying both the tolerant Renaults and the more rigid Dindons. Gay Marshall brings an authentic Gallic sensibility to the underdeveloped role of Jacqueline.
Johnson's production doesn't solve the show's biggest problem. In act two, Herman's songs and Fierstein's book suddenly turn desultory. But just in time for the climax, Herman's anthem “The Best of Times” arrives. It's hard not to agree.
This is a rousing production of a landmark show. In 1983, La Cage aux Folles utilized the most commercial theater genre, musical comedy, to introduce us, without preachiness or special pleading, to a middle-aged gay married couple. Attitudes have changed. Albin and Georges' romantic woes have lost some ability to shock. But the pair have maintained all their wiles to entertain. Allons y, which if my high school French teacher taught me well, means “Go!”
For a song list, see Curtainup's Broadway review here.