For those of you who have never heard of La Cage Aux Folles, this Tony award-winning musical was remade into a movie in the late 90s starring Robin Williams and called The Birdcage. Ring a bell now? The show’s plot follows a gay man who tries to play it straight when his son’s future in-laws plan a visit. With gorgeous transvestites, campy tunes, and an over-dramatic script, one would expect a production full of frivolity and exuberance. Not so much . . .
Toronto’s newest production stars Hollywood legend George Hamilton as the show’s principal actor, Georges. Although Hamilton was a talent to be reckoned with in his heyday, he looked awkward and stiff on stage, reminding me of Bob Barker on The Price is Right. The age difference between Hamilton and the rest of the cast was substantial, and his relationship with onstage husband, Christopher Sieber, seemed tense and frigid. Casting Hamilton in the leading role appears to be a producer’s attempt to sell tickets.
The stiffness seemed to be hereditary in Georges’ onstage family. Although he had a magnificent singing voice, Georges’ son Jean-Michel, played by Michael Lowney, left the audience wanting. He was uncomfortable on the stage, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot during his ballads, failing to connect with his onstage relations. Near the end of the show, he showed a slight connection to his fiancée, Anne, but even then he appeared embarrassed; as though they were hiding a dirty little secret.
Anne (played by Katie Donohue) was lovely, as was butler Jacob (played by Jeigh Madjus). They filled their roles beautifully, supporting their fellow-cast members with flawless, full, and exciting performances. This was a relief, as the actor playing Anne’s father was a painfully bad, unrealistic overactor.
But the show was not all bad. The dancers playing Les Folles, or the girls, were stunning. They had beautiful bodies that contorted into magnificent shapes; their brightly colored costumes and perfect movement incorporated both technique and artistry, creating elegant pictures on stage. Their energy was contagious, and I anticipated their arrival on stage as a welcomed break from the mostly tepid acting.
. . . Unless Albin, Georges’ transvestite husband (played by Christopher Sieber), was on stage. Sieber undoubtedly carried the show with his charisma, showmanship, and incomparable talent. His comic timing was perfect, his movements were seamless, and that voice! Sieber’s voice was extraordinary, both in song and in spoken word — from the moment he appeared on stage, in scores of “fabulousness.” Without Sieber, I may have joined the other four people in my row that left at the interval.
Overall, La Cage Aux Folles lacked the heart, passion, and zest that a musical — especially one about French transvestite showgirls — should contain. Triple-threat sensation Sieber and the remarkable chorus were able to inject the performance with the vitality needed to make it a worthwhile trip to the theatre.