The eponymous nightclub that provides the setting for the musical La Cage Aux Folles promises strange sights and unique experiences, and the touring version now playing at the State Theatre certainly makes good on that promise. If nothing else, when’s the next time you’re going to get to see pop culture icon George Hamilton lay a passionate kiss on the lips of a chubby guy from St. Paul?
Hamilton is in many ways a natural fit for the role of Georges, the unflappable owner of—and master of ceremonies at—a venue that styles itself the most flamboyant club on the French Riviera. After five decades of Hollywood parties, Hamilton has doubtless seen (and done) things this show doesn’t touch in even its randiest allusions. He’s 72, though, and he’s faced a steep learning curve for this starring role in the Tony-winning musical. Hamilton gestures more than enacts his choreography, and there’s an unmistakable tightness to his upper lip and cheeks.
Though Hamilton gives a game performance and—crucially—seems to be tremendously enjoying himself, he makes a distractingly odd couple with the spritely, boyish Christopher Sieber (42), a two-time Tony nominee who generously tries to let his fellow actors keep him from running away with the show. It’s all his, though, and Sieber is so confident and charming that one can’t help wondering what the show would be like with a Broadway pro instead of a screen legend cast opposite him.
This production is the second major revival of the 1984 musical comedy by composer/lyricist Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!) and writer Harvey Fierstein; the story, in which a pair of outrageous gay entertainers must disguise their lifestyle from the conservative family their son wants to marry into, is apt to be most familiar to today’s viewers from the superb 1996 film The Birdcage, adapted from the same 1973 play that provided the musical’s source material.
A press release (naturally) describes the musical as “classic,” but though Fierstein’s book is sharp, Herman’s songs are uneven. Only in a couple of places—at the end of each of the two acts—do they perform the intended purpose of enhancing rather than distracting from the story, and director Terry Johnson and his team havn’t quite whipped their touring cast into fighting trim when it comes to executing Herman’s tricker contrapuntal numbers.
All in all, this Cage feels disappointing, given its combination of strong talent and seemingly can’t-miss material—particularly at a time when marriage equality is very much a current issue. (Compare Gene Hackman’s performance as the conservative politician in the film with Bernard Burak Sheredy’s take on the character here for an illustration of the difference between pointed satire and simple clowning.) The show hits its notes, but doesn’t land its punches.
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