La Cage Aux Folles
The Broward Center and Broadway Across America are currently presenting George Hamilton and Christopher Sieber in the tour of the 2007 Menier Chocolate Factory production of "La Cage Aux Folles."
The Opening night audience at the Broward Center turned out to see septuagenarian George Hamilton take a star turn as George with forty-something Christopher Sieber as Albin/ZaZa. The age difference between the two leads was noticeable but only one flaw in this very flawed production of Jerry Herman’s beloved musical.
Based on a French play of the same name, "La Cage Aux Folles" is the story Albin, of a professional drag queen performer, his lover George and George’s son Jean-Michel.
When Jean-Michel announces he is getting married to the daughter of a very conservative politician, he asks George to remove Albin from their lives for one night to present a stereotypical conservative family to his future in-laws. Of course, nothing happens according to plan and hilarity and singing occur.
The book of "La Cage Aux Folles" is light and frothy as is the score. This production is intentionally "dirty and gritty" and very reminiscent of the recent successful productions of "Chicago" and "Sweeny Todd" among others. It doesn’t work.
"La Cage Aux Folles" without the glamour and glitz just seems cheap and makes the character of Albin/Zaza seem rather pathetic and tawdry. It’s as disappointing as it would be to see a Tim Burton styled production of "Oklahoma!" or a production of "Les Miserables" done all in pink. What you end up with is an evening of cheap, somewhat trashy looking, not very good drag queens, and in Fort Lauderdale, you don’t have to pay $80 a ticket to see that.
The sound in the Au Rene theater is always a challenge due to poor acoustics all around, but the pared down orchestra for this tour does no justice to Herman’s magnificent and sweeping score. On the other hand, the overall abysmal singing is somewhat masked by the poor acoustics.
Sieber, in the role of Albin, has some of the best songs and while he sells them really well, occasionally he makes sounds that should never come out of the human throat. George Hamilton’s singing is weak at best and horribly off pitch at worst.
The strongest singers in the show were Michael Lowney as Jean-Michel, Allison Blair McDowell as Anne and Cathy Newman in the dual role of Madames Renaud and Dindon. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a lot of singing to do in the production. The sound mix in the theater was so bad that the charming "Cocktail Counterpoint" in Act Two was an unintelligible mess. Some actors had body microphones (which were unacceptably visible from my middle orchestra seats) and some apparently did not.
The lighting of the production was just flat out awful. Many times actor’s faces were in the dark and occasionally there were lights in stray places. The lighting designer, Nick Richings, decided to provide mostly up light and side light which is fine for dance, but completely inappropriate for musical comedy.
The overall feeling of the show is tired. Act One was lifeless and performed without energy up until the final two numbers, the title song "La Cage Aux Folles" and the show stopper "I Am What I Am." Act Two came back, thankfully, with a lot more energy. If Act One had been presented as energetically, it might have made up for some of the other technical flaws.
George Hamilton, making his star turn in this role and also being one of the producers of this tour, is completely miscast as George. He can’t sing very well and he looks too old to be convincing in the role. He did come across in Act Two as a very charming man but during Act One he was stiff and completely lifeless.
Christopher Sieber is a mostly strong Albin but is completely unconvincing as Zaza. Looking more like Dame Edna than a flashy Riviera drag diva he belts and bellows his way through the musical numbers and only occasionally sings well.
My theater companion on opening night is a big fan of "La Cage Aux Folles." It has been one of his favorite Broadway shows for the last 30 years. He was very excited to attend this performance and I’m sorry to say that he left disappointed and slightly angry.
Seeing "La Cage Aux Folles" stripped down, pared down and without the associated glamour and glitz is simply not new and innovative; it’s a let down. This production has a lot of flaws, most of them conceptual, which combined with rather lackluster performances and poor sound and lighting make for a disappointing evening.
"La Cage Aux Folles" runs through June 24 at the Broward Center, 201 Southwest 5th Avenue in Fort Lauderdale. For info or tickets, call 954-462-0222 or visit nwww.browardcenter.org