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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

La Cage: The Best of Times is Now

It’s a pity that La Cage aux Folles is playing in Baltimore for only a week. The touring production of the multiple Tony® Award-winning musical currently mounted at the Hippodrome Theatre is a winner in every aspect, be it performing, staging, costumes, scenic design, music and direction.

La Cage aux Folles made Tony® Award history by being the first show ever to win the coveted prize three times for best production. La Cage aux Folles is already legendary in theatre yore; the superb composer Jerry Herman (Mame, Hello Dolly!), Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy) who wrote the book and director Arthur Laurents collaborated in a fun-filled musical comedy based on the 1973 play La Cage aux Folles by Jean Poiret.

La Cage aux Folles opened on Broadway in 1983 and had spawned two hit revivals. Earlier two successful French films with the same title had been adapted from the play and a third one premiered in 1985. In 1996 the American film The Birdcage, based on the French movie, became a box office smash.

While the production for the tour’s version has been scaled down some and a few tweaks have taken place, the core plot is the same as the original. Georges, played by venerable performer and headliner George Hamilton, owns a glitzy, drag nightclub in Saint-Tropez, and his gay partner, Albin, played by Christopher Sieber, moonlights as a glamorous drag diva, Zaza.

Georges’ 24 year-old son Jean-Michel (Billy Harrigan Tigue) shocks both he and Albin by announcing that he is engaged to (gasp!) a woman—the daughter of the head of the conservative Tradition, Family and Morality Party whose goal is to close down the local drag clubs. Jean-Michel wants his fiancée’s parents to meet Georges as well as his birth mother. But the flamboyant Albin/Zaza must not be seen for at least that one night.

What ensues is a hilarious, outrageous romp, testing family bonds amidst the battle between conservative family values and genuine young love. One of the highlights was the frenetic “what are the boys doing on the plate?” sequence.

The campy, naughty drag performances by the nimble and fun-loving Les Cagelles ensemble and their interaction with the actual audience, especially in the first act, were top-notch.

Tony® Award-winning Director Terry Johnson, who helmed much of his work in London’s West End, was masterful in bringing the production to the high level it achieved.

George Hamilton, who had some Broadway musical background when he appeared in Chicago, is best known for his work in film and television (The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, Love at First Bite, Doc Hollywood, Dynasty). While he does not possess strong vocal chops, his singing was serviceable. “Song on the Sand” was particularly performed well.

Drawing on a half-century of experience, the fit-as-a-fiddle, dashing Hamilton had the timing and instincts down pat. And while at times he appeared a little stiff in his movements and dialogue, he exuded a warm charm and played beautifully opposite Christopher Sieber. The chemistry between Hamilton’s Georges and Sieber’s Albin/Zaza is what makes the show work.

Tony® Award nominee Sieber’s performance was superb. No stranger to La Cage, he had played the role of Georges opposite Harvey Fierstein on Broadway. He also received plaudits for Spamalot, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Beauty and the Beast among others.

True, Sieber’s numbers were showier than others in the score, but he delivered big time. “A Little More Mascara” was performed very well. And he brought the house down with his scintillating rendition of the gay anthem “I Am What I Am.”

The supporting cast also contributed mightily to the show’s quality. Jeigh Madjus effectively played the over-the-top, flamboyant housemaid, Jacob. Billy Harrigan Tigue as Jean-Michel was excellent as were his duets with Hamilton (“With Anne on My Arm” and “Look Over There”).

Allison Blair McDowell played Anne, Jean-Michel’s somewhat conflicted fiancée. She did a creditable job defending her love for her fiancée while acknowledging her love for her family. Her father, the conservative morals politico M. Dindon, was played wonderfully by Bernard Burak Sheredy.

Gay Marshall was excellent portraying the mischievous restaurant owner Jacqueline where the unmasking of Albin’s true identity took place. The remainder of the cast performed admirably as well.

Tim Shortall’s scenic design made efficient use of the stage, and the sets transformed flawlessly. Matthew Wright’s costumes were colorful and imaginative. Jonathan Deans sound design was expertly executed and the performers were well mic’d.

And the musical production team of Todd Ellison, John Miller, Joey Chancey, Jason Carr and Lynne Page saw to it that Jerry Herman’s score was delivered perfectly by an outstanding orchestra and cast. As the finale pointed out, “The Best of Times” is now.

La Cage aux Folles runs through November 6 at the Hippodrome Theatre. Matinees are performed on both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available at the Box Office or through Ticketmaster. Visit the website for more information.

Photo by Paul Kolnick

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