Saturday, October 13, 2012

Review: (Toronto) La Cage Aux Folles

Sieber (l) and Hamilton (photo credit: Paul Kolnik)
Sieber's Show
by Christian Baines
With all the gay-affirming, drag-embracing shows that have found success in its wake, it’s easy to overlook just how revolutionary La Cage aux Folles must have seemed when it debuted on Broadway in 1983. A musical that not only featured a gay couple as protagonists – just as America was entering a new era of conservatism and AIDS-fuelled homophobia – but dared to present the notion that families with same-sex parents might be, not just the equal of, but indeed, pretty much the same as their heterosexual counterparts.
The musical went on to sweep the 1984 Tony Awards, and has since been popularized by two Tony-winning revivals and a popular Hollywood remake of the original French play-turned-film (that’s The Birdcage, for those who’ve been living under a rock for the past decade and a half). That, along with the leaps and strides made by gay rights in the last 30 years, can make the show’s remarkably inoffensive book and broad ‘dude in a dress’ gags seem almost quaint in an age where foul-mouthed Mormons and puppet sex are considered mainstream fare. 
Key to its success is Christopher Sieber’s flamboyant, yet sensitive Albin
But that accessibility is a large part of what made La Cage so successful in the first place – the fact that it was so easy for a mainstream audience to latch onto the show’s heart under its veritable galaxy of sequins. While this production seems to have lost some of the zing that made it the unlikely hit of the 2010 Broadway season, it still does not disappoint on either count.
Key to its success is Christopher Sieber’s flamboyant, yet sensitive Albin, also known as cabaret sensation ‘Zaza.’ His portrayal is the perfect blend of superstar drag and human vulnerability, offering the audience an easy, palpable bridge right to the show’s emotional core. Unfortunately, he’s the only cast member doing so. 
Specifically, it’s a shame he’s paired with George Hamilton as Georges, La Cage’s owner and Albin’s more masculine partner. Hamilton seems completely out of his element, delivering none of the effortless charisma the part requires. After a cheeky pre-show drag warm-up act, his performance feels more morning-TV variety host than debonair cabaret emcee. He also strains on many of George's higher notes and seems out of breath delivering lines. Add the fact Sieber is 30 years his junior, and you have one of the most awkward partnerships we’ve seen on stage in a long time.
The remaining cast are efficient and professional, no more, no less. This is not for lack of trying, particularly in the case of Jeigh Madjus as Jacob, ‘the maid,’ who pulls out all the stops for a quick laugh, but never quite manages to bring anything unique to the material. Still, much of the cast feeds off Sieber’s energy, particularly in the second act. Meanwhile, Les Cagelles’ drag antics see the show through a couple of its slower spots. The set design is deceptively simple, yet packs enough texture and old fashioned razzle-dazzle to please any audience member hungry for sparkling eye candy.
Is this La Cage still worth seeing? For Sieber’s performance, absolutely. Plus, Harvey Fierstein’s touching and hilarious book, coupled with Jerry Herman’s memorable score, makes for a show that still stands up well in the face of a somewhat by-the-numbers production.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.