Thursday, March 15, 2012

Theatre review: "La Cage Aux Folles" at Benedum Center

A touring production of La cage Aux Folles is here for a few days. And it does great things with Jerry Herman’s wonderful melodies and snappy lyrics, the cast singing superbly and the small orchestra sounding fine. Plus chorus people dance Lyn Page’s inventive choreography with great style and vitality while Tim Shortall’s sets do the show proud, especially the glitzy ones.

In case you don’t remember the essence, this is based on a 1973 French play of the same name by Jean Poiret, focusing on a gay couple at a French Riviera night club which features drag entertainment. Georges is the club manager and his long-time lover Albin stars there. Farcical things develop when Georges' son, Jean-Michel, brings home his fiancĂ© Anne’s ultra-conservative parents.

Clearly the focus on gayness has made La Cage famous and special. As a play and a movie it mostly aims for comedy, given that being gay at the unspecified time of the story is not a time for openness. The best effect, though, would come from not pushing for laughs but by making Georges and Albin genuine people, sincerely in love, not simple-minded caricatures. The natural tendency, however, is to camp up the whole thing, as done frequently in this production.

Certainly Harvey Fierstein’s book milks some of the ideas, especially in a long-drawn-out scene in the second act when Georges tries to get Albin to look butch. And having Anne’s nasty father appear in drag to sing and dance in the finale goes overboard.

Movie star George Hamilton is the deliberate box-office draw. At age of 72 he carries off everything capably, with surface polish and a flashy-toothed, gleaming smile. Opening night he sang acceptably, wisely avoiding holding notes and, although going up on lines a couple of times, stayed adequately convincing. But he didn’t do enough to suggest that Georges and Albin are still in love, lacking obvious gestures of tenderness.

Not that Christopher Sieber’s Albin seemed that lovable. Sieber remained perpetually busy with verbal embellishments within dialogue and songs, sounding like throw-away ad-libs rather than like lines with meaning, comic or otherwise. Moreover Sieber popped into and out of various voices and other things designed to be funny, defusing a sense of character, as if doing a comedy act. Albin could legitimately be played sweet and vulnerable. At times Sieber did better, for example, when Albin pretends to be Jean-Michel’s mother. He didn’t overdo that. And he got genuine warmth and sincerity out of two good songs, “I Am What I Am” and “The Best of Times.”

Also taking the show too far, it would be hard to equal Jeigh Madjus’ over the top take on Albin’s dresser, Jacob. Less significant but also sloppy, Gay Marshall (yes. a woman cast member) as Jaqueline speaks with a French accent unlike all the other characters who are also French, but speak standard English. Since everyone speaks the native language, why would there be foreign accents?

This production has been on the road since October of last year and I have the feeling that some in the cast have been making what they think are improvements. Director Terry Johnson should come back and fix things especially since, with so many marvelous songs and a potentially endearing story, a really good show lies within the glitz.

La Cage Aux Folles continues through 6:30 pm Sunday March 18th at Benedum Center, downtown. 412/ 456-6666 or online at

1 comment:

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