Chicago Theatre Review
It's Not All a Drag
By Lazlo Collins
The reception outside the theater from the eight foot drag queen when I arrived was a great surprising touch to what was a would be a night of many illusions.
She continued to banter with the audience from onstage, warming up the crowd for “La Cage Aux Folles”. This romp of mistaken identity, glitz, glamor, and what families do for families, was about to start.
I had seen “La Cage Aux Folles”, with memorable music by Jerry Herman and snappy book by Harvey Fierstein, in its second Broadway revival a few years ago.
This time around the pared down production has fewer “Le Cagelles” and a more focused satisfying set by Tim Shortall.
As the lights came up and George Hamilton (Georges) began to speak, I knew it may not be the smoothest go round with him at the helm. To be fair, Mr. Hamilton has been in show business for over 50 years. He is well loved for his film work and debonair persona in many of his artistic endeavors. The audience recognized him immediately when he came out on stage. All that said, his performance as Georges was a bit uncomfortable. His mechanical line delivery as well as his singing was no match for the rest of this high energy musical. There were actually times I felt for his safety as he twirled about the stage. He is a gentleman of certain age, and his tan and persona are going strong, but just not in this musical. Even towards the end of the evening you could feel his energy waning as well as the audience’s patience. I realize that star recognition sells tickets, and perhaps there is a whole generation that may have not seen the show if he was not in it. But alas, sometimes the work needs to be a bit better than passable.
In sharp contrast to Mr. Hamilton’s unsure performance, Christopher Sieber as Albin was outstanding. He made the character his own. Mr. Seiber’s enchanting parry with audience was nothing short of thrilling. Even the act one closing number “I Am What I Am”, which can sometimes fall into anthem schmaltz, drew the audience right in the palm of his hand. This was a feat of a well-seasoned Broadway performer. His experience on the stage and with a Tony to his name is no surprise. I give him huge credit infusing the scenes with Mr. Hamilton with energy and delight.
Gay fathers (Georges and Albin) who run the female impersonation nightclub “La Cage Aux Folles”, need to make some changes to suit the son’s (Billy Harrigan Tighe) upcoming nuptials. A visit by the conservative fiancés parents (lovely dual cast Bruce Winant and Cathy Newman) turns their beliefs and decorating choices into question. The question of what makes a family, and what do they believe about themselves and others are a central theme.
The ensemble that makes the nightclubs entertaining core, “Les Cagelles”, were all spot on with their dancing, and wise cracking antics to keep the audience entertained throughout the show. They were fresh and fun and gave the show its bounce.
With energy to spare, Gay Marshall as Jacqueline, keeps us on our toes and sends the plot to its conclusion during the always rousing “The Best of Times”. She made me want to sing out loud.
Even with the last slow reveal of everyone in drag, (although I am a bit tired of many musicals these days ending with the audience clapping mega-mix), the show was overall fun to watch. The cast knows there marks and is ready to entertain. Perhaps it will get better with age, or a few B-12 shots.
“La Cage Aux Folles” runs through 1 Jan 2012 at the Bank of America Theatre