Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It Is What It Is: Very Enjoyable If Not Quite Perfect -- Theater Review: La Cage Aux Folles

Theater Review

La Cage Aux Folles
presented by Broadway in Chicago
Bank of America Theatre, Chicago
Thru January 1, 2012

With music and lyrics by Jerry Herman--who also wrote Hello, Dolly and Mame--and a book by Harvey Fierstein, La Cage Aux Folles won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1983 and has been revived on Broadway twice within the past 8 years.

It is what I consider a first-rate musical, but not quite among the very best of what I consider to be first-rate musicals.

Last night, the first in Chicago for the current Broadway tour--derived from a 2008 London production that transferred to Broadway--the show that spawned the gay anthem "I Am What I Am" was what it was: very enjoyable with some wonderful songs, but not the best show I've ever seen.

A few years ago, I caught a fine local production of La Cage, but hadn't seen a Broadway, London or touring rendition before this one. Supposedly, the London version that ultimately generated the current tour was intended as a scaled-down affair, so I imagine that's why the drag-queen production numbers (at La Cage Aux Folles, a nightclub in St. Tropez) weren't as over-the-top as I expected.

On this tour, the perpetually tan George Hamilton stars as Georges, the owner of La Cage, where his lover Albin (played by Christopher Sieber) is the star attraction, known by his/her stage name, Za Za.

It was fun to see Hamilton onstage and although not a Broadway-caliber singer, he didn't embarrass himself. And Sieber is a Broadway veteran with an excellent voice, which enabled him to dazzle on "I Am What I Am."

But while it may be trifling, the 72-year-old Hamilton and the heavyset 42-year-old Sieber seemed somewhat mismatched. Not that Georges/Albin's romance would be a real-life impossibility, but with references to their being together for 20+ years, Sieber just seemed too young for his role, which had been played by a considerably older man in the prior version I'd seen. I won't delve into the casting history, which would likely prove my perceptions wrong, but I thought Albin is supposed to be more seasoned, with Za Za getting close to retirement age.

Which isn't to say that Sieber's casting, or the pairing, ruined the show. If a bit implausible, he was certainly solid, but I can perceive that a different performer--or even two--might have elevated things a bit.

Although it's also true that while quite good, La Cage isn't a perfect show. Some of the laughs are cheap and lessen the poignancy, too many songs utilize the same musical refrains and the story--centering around Georges' son wanting to hide his father's and Albin's relationship from his fiancĂ©’s family, despite Albin having served as his mother--comes off as a bit familiar and even silly (though I realize the whole thing would've been more daring in 1983).

But with some great Herman songs, including the rousing "The Best of Times," La Cage--based on a 1973 French play and 1978 French-Italian film--is certainly a show with a lot to like. Yes, better musicals exist and this may not quite be the ultimate rendition, but offering a lot of fun, some wonderful showtunes and quite a bit bit of heart, La Cage Aux Folles is far from a drag.

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