'La Cage Aux Folles'
(Fisher Theatre, Detroit, MI - September 25th, 2012)
The instant you walk through the door of the Fisher Theatre, you step into “the envy of the cabaret world,” LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. Patrons take their seats and are warmly greeted by Georges (George Hamilton) , the owner of the club who proceeds to introduce the resident drag-queens-slash-performers, Les Cagelles. These six lovely ladies also welcome visitors, talking about the e’er-interesting life of an…entertainer, and offering the disclaimer “We Are What We Are.”
When the main drag act, Zaza, fails to appear, Georges goes to the upstairs flat to find Albin, Zaza’s everyday alter-ego and his partner of over 20 years (Christopher Sieber) in the midst of pitching a fit about the distance that he feels has grown between them. Georges assures him that nothing has changed, and Albin begrudgingly agrees to go on, bemoaning just how much of his own self gets tucked away every time Zaza takes the stage and how “A Little More Mascara” helps him cope.
With Albin being kept busy, Georges entertains a much younger, handsome man, shortly thereafter revealed to be his son, Jean-Michel. The younger comes bearing news: He is getting married ... to a woman, no less. He also mentions, though casually, that Anne is the product of a strict, conservative family whose patriarch sees it his personal duty to impose moral regulations on the French Riviera. Jean-Michel swears up and down that his beloved is different than her parents, and that she brings out nothing but the best in him (“With Anne on My Arm.”) Georges eventually comes around, but is reluctant to let Albin in on the secret. The other ultimately hears anyway, and is bummed that their only child is getting hitched. Georges makes it clear that they’ll face it together and even the most ordinary of days is grand “With You on My Arm.”
Time appears to drag on and on as Jean-Michel asks Georges to meet with his fiancée’s parents--without Albin. The love-struck youngster even requests the presence of his otherwise absent biological mother. Out of support for his own flesh and blood, Georges relents and invites Sybil, though still left with the daunting task of informing his lover that he’s not only uninvited, but has been altogether replaced for the occasion.
Georges dodges the conversation for some time until he and Albin hit up a moonlit, seaside tavern for a drink. He attempts to bring it up, but the subject gets switched to when the couple first met (“Song on the Sand.”) An old fire rekindled, Albin comes around on the whole marriage concept, and even begins to get excited. Georges can’t bring himself to deliver the crushing blow. But he needn’t tarry for too long…fast forward to showtime at La Cage: Jean-Michel has been making some “minor” adjustments to the apartment décor to aide the “normal” look he’s going for. His dads catch him in the act, but once again, the conversation is halted as Zaza and the other Queens are called to perform (“La Cage aux Folles.”)
In between acts, Georges, unable to keep the secret any longer, tells Albin that for one night, everything must change. He offers the solution that Albin masquerades as Jean-Michel’s Uncle Al. Having none of it, the other triumphantly declares “I Am What I Am” in a powerful anthem of self-expression, throwing off his wig and storming offstage.
Act II opens on a much slower note as we find Georges and Albin back at the tavern, this time with the former convincing his partner of not only of his love, but how much Jean-Michel (unknowingly) wants him to participate, just in a different role. (“Song on the Sand Reprise”) So begins the hysterically funny attempt at teaching the normally flouncing, sashaying Albin the in’s and out’s of “Masculinity.” The scene jumps to later in the evening as George and Jean-Michel watch as Zaza does her thing, and the father begs the son to “Look Over There” and reconsider throwing the one who has already sacrificed so much in the name of family, out of it. Jean-Michel remains adamant. The moment of truth arrives as Anne, Monsieur Dindon, and Madame Dindon arrive at the perfectly normal-looking apartment, complete with a large crucifix and a church pew for a sofa!
“Cocktail Counterpoint” is a jumbled, fast-paced exchanging of words between all five occupants as they discuss such things as Greek dishware, and Georges’ alleged post as a Legionnaire. When Jean-Michel’s biological mom does not show, Albin decides to step in--as Mother. The moments that follow are comedic gold as Albin makes a valiant (and surprisingly successful) effort to charm his future in-laws.
Anxiously awaiting something to go wrong, the party makes reservations at Chez Jacqueline in hope that nothing will. The equally-flamboyant restaurateur immediately recognizes Albin from the club, and begs--more like demands--that Zaza give an impromptu performance. The result is the optimistic, catchy production number, “The Best of Times.” At the end, completely lost in the moment, Albin tears his wig off, thereby revealing his true identity. Deputy Dindon is furious, of course, that his prospective relatives are not only gay, but involved in the drag business. He at once demands that Anne vacate the premises, but the love-struck girl refuses to leave her boyfriend. Jean-Michel, for his part, is deeply ashamed of the way he has treated Albin, and seeks his forgiveness (“Look Over There Reprise)”.
Monsieur and Madame Dindon now find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place, as fame-whore Jacqueline—of Chez Jacqueline—has alerted the media that anti-homosexual activists are at La Cage aux Folles! Georges and Albin agree to help the Dindons escape the club, under one condition: They give their blessing to Anne and Jean-Michel’s marriage. Permission granted. Emcee Georges addresses the audience once more, telling us that our time at the club has come to an end. The final revue features a special guest, the Dindon’s, completely disguised in drag (“Finale.”) As all the other revelers leave the stage, only Georges and Albin remain, sharing a tender kiss as the final curtain falls.
I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to review this show, having seen it once before on Broadway, in New York. When I stand the two productions up next to each other, this one comes in second place, but there were a few highlights that I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t mention. The first one is Broadway veteran Christopher Sieber as Albin. Everything he did was magic. The very best part about Mr. Sieber was all of the subtleties he brought to the character. Albin is supposed to be over the top, which he was, but occasionally, Sieber would give a shifty look, or make his voice go down a register, or even move his hands in a certain way, and the audience would crack up laughing. He is truly a wonderful performer.
Also cast-wise, the handsome young actor playing Jean-Michel, Michael Lowney, was lovely.
Another aspect of the show that I especially enjoyed was the music itself. Jerry Herman’s score was interpreted in a very loving way by a very small band, which added to the “nightclub” atmosphere. And to similar ends, Harvey Fierstein’s libretto takes such touchy subjects as homosexuality and transvestitism and presents it in a way in which even the most conservative theatregoer will laugh.
And even after all of this, there’s still the case of…
What didn’t work:
I begin with George Hamilton. His Georges just fell kind of…flat. It’s not for lack of trying, mind you; Mr. Hamilton was a more than decent actor, but his singing was rather sub-par. He gave a valiant effort, but it just wasn’t up to snuff for me. I felt the same way about Jeigh Madjus, the actor playing eccentric housekeeper, Jacob. The problem here was that Jacob is supposed to be flamboyant, and a bit of a pest, always popping in and out of scenes…but Madjus’ performance, once again, left something to be desired.
And finally, the single worst part about this whole production actually took place before the curtain even went up! Drag queen “Lilli Whiteass” attempted to entertain the crowd, but surely offended some of us with off-color remarks about everything from politics, to religion, to marriage, to sexuality, and more. And she just dragged on for forever! I, for one, was not amused.
La Cage aux Folles has been on my Top Ten Musicals list (yes, I have a list) since I first saw it in 2010. And after taking the good with the bad in this touring production, I can safely say that it remains on that list. I would recommend this show to anyone looking for a good laugh in their night at the theatre. After all, to quote Zaza, “The best of times is now.”
Review by: Ashley J. Trombley