Fun on the French Riviera
I love La Cage aux Folles: It’s a wonderful story about non-judgemental love and the importance of family. I recently had the opportunity to see the original French movie, and I’ve also enjoyed the American movie, The Bird Cage. Unfortunately, the current Broadway tour, now on stage in Toronto, doesn’t quite do justice to the touching tale.
It starts with great promise when a drag queen comes through the audience prior to the opening overture. She calls herself Lilly Whiteass and comes through the doors in a sparkling dress, high spike heels and a white fur coat, talking to audience members as they take their seats. At first, we think she’s a patron causing a ruckus, but soon she makes her way to the stage, telling hilarious jokes and getting great reactions to her slightly naughty improv.
This opening build-up reminded me of Lord of the Rings several years ago. As we were taking our seats, the hobbits were trying to catch barely visible flying fairies in nets, climbing over the theatre seats as patrons entered. But neither show lived up to the pre-show fun.
Georges owns La Cage aux Folles, a drag queen night club on the French Riviera, where his long-time partner, Albin, stars as the diva Zsa Zsa. They are surprised when Georges’ son, Jean-Michel tells them he is marrying Anne, the daughter of a politician who is notorious for his inflexible stance on conservative family and morality issues. Jean-Michel has invited Anne’s straight-laced and strict parents over to meet his parents, and tells Albin he can’t be present, preferring that his birth mother, who has been absent in his life, be on hand, to pretend that his parents are happily married and not involved with the night club. Of course, Albin, who raised Jean-Michel, is heartbroken. Then the pretence crumbles with comedic twists and turns.
George Hamilton, the permanent tan man, has the lead of role Georges. Obviously, someone thought the show needed a “name” to attract an audience. Hamilton at 72 is too low key for the role and many of his lines are lost. But even worse, he cannot sing. There was a collective cringe in the theatre each time he tried to carry a tune.
Fortunately, co-star Christopher Sieber as Albin/Zsa Zsa is excellent. He originally played Georges on Broadway and then switched roles for the tour. He has great fun speaking in the higher pitched Zsa Zsa voice, then switching to a deep bass voice to make a point. He gives his all to “I am what I am”, the show stopping number that closes act one.
The Cagelles, the cast of drag queens who perform at La Cage, are also excellent. They do amazing acrobatics in the bird cage and are all excellent dancers.
It was so good to see Canadian Jeigh Madjus in the role of Jacob, the butler/maid. Jeigh was part of the cast of The Altar Boys at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia a few years ago. He supplied much of the comedy, frequently going over the top.
Katie Donohue is delightful as Anne, the bride-to-be. Her groom, Jean-Michel (Michael Lowney) has a wonderful singing voice, but seems robotic, not a young man in love.
Thank goodness La Cage has a strong plot, a touching story and some hilarious comedy which saves this uneven production.
I was fortunate enough to see La Cage in Halifax in May with an all-Canadian cast. It was superior to this production. I would encourage David Mirvish and his crew to look around and bring Canadian shows into Toronto, rather than signing up for American tours.
La Cage aux Folles continues with eight shows a week at Royal Alexandra Theatre until November 18. Call Ticket King 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.
La Cage aux Folles
Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Terry Johnson
Choreographed by Lynne Page
Orchestrations and Dance Arrangements by Jason Carr
Performed by George Hamilton, Christopher Sieber and company
Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto
October 10 to November 18, 2012
Reviewed by Mary Alderson