Theater review: ‘La Cage’ struts Proctors stage with flash and bounce

If you have never seen the musical “La Cage Aux Folles,” or even if you have seen it a dozen times,

‘La Cage aux Folles’

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady

WHEN: 8 p.m. today, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $70 to $20

MORE INFO: 346-6204,

If you have never seen the musical “La Cage Aux Folles,” or even if you have seen it a dozen times, the best of times to see it is now. At Proctors through Sunday, it is a fresh and jubilant production, full of bounce and tickle, just what is needed to get you smiling.

Based on a hit French farce by Jean Poiret, “La Cage” was reworked into a sentimental and spectacular musical in 1983 by composer/lyricist Jerry Herman and playwright/performer Harvey Fierstein. Combining family values and the world of the drag shows of the French Rivera, where a chorus of high-kicking drag queens of no fixed gender strut their flashy stuff, is no easy feat. But Herman and Fierstein have created something rare — ridiculous musical mayhem dosed with a gentle bid for tolerance and compassion.

The plot is this: Nightclub owner Georges is lumbered with a problem. His adult son, Jean-Michel, conceived in a singular night of heterosexual romance 24 years ago with a chorus girl, wants his father to meet his fiancée’s right-wing politician father. But how can Albin, Georges’ flamboyantly gay partner and the nightclub’s featured star, be kept out of the way?

Based on a production at London’s tiny Menier Chocolate Factory Theater in 2008, this rethought revival was so successful that it moved to the West End, then back to Broadway two seasons ago. For this national tour, both British director Terry Johnson’s intimate, small-scale approach to the piece and Lynn Page’s wonderfully electric choreography have been retained. And the results are ferociously entertaining.

Herman’s music has sometimes been derided as “unfashionable” or “old-school.” The fact remains that the man can write one heck of a show tune. No one, save Irving Berlin, can rival Herman’s skill for getting an audience to hum his score while exiting the theater. Being able to carry the tunes with you makes you feel included and involved, and those are two themes of the play that Herman has deftly underscored.

Still devilishly handsome, and still owner of that certain “glow,” screen star George Hamilton has an approach to the part of nightclub owner and emcee Georges that seems slightly impassive at first. But as the story unfolds, the actor’s innate charm surfaces. Although Hamilton does not possess strong vocal chops, his “Look Over There,” a duet with Billy Harrigan Tighe (as Jean-Michel) and his song of remembrance to his partner Albin, “Song on the Sand,” pluck all the heartstrings they were designed to.

As Albin/Zaza, star of the nightclub and “mother” of the groom, Christopher Sieber is impressive — in and out of heels. Full of flourish and fussiness, Sieber creates a coquette with a liberal slice of ham that amuses when donning the mask of powder and mascara.

The unapologetic anthem “I Am What I Am” is given a star turn by Sieber. Tossing aside the somewhat manipulative nature of the moment and the pedantic preaching of the lyrics, Sieber finds every nuance and emotional wrinkle. It’s simply brilliant and well worthy of the standing ovation that we were all ready to give.

But as fine as Hamilton and Sieber are, there is one obvious flaw — there is little chemistry between the two. You can act passion, flirt at romance and moon and pout till all the feathers fly off your boa, but the sequins just don’t stick to the fabric of this supposed romance. You cannot act chemistry — it is either there or not — and this is sad as it is the only thing missing in an otherwise top-notch production.

But bring on the girls — or, hmm, whomever. Any production of “La Cage” succeeds or fails on the strength of its ensemble of gender-bending showgirls. Perfectly supported by Joey Chancey’s mini orchestra and Matthew Wright’s provocative, eye-catching costumes, these “ladies” blend an amazing display of avant-garde dance and athleticism with all the vogue and pose of the catwalk.

“La Cage Aux Folles” is one heck of a production that will delight just about everyone.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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