Monday, October 15, 2012
MUSICAL THEATRE REVIEW:
LA CAGE AUX FOLLES
Special to TorSun
15 OCT 2012
Pictured: George Hamilton, Christopher Sieber
TORONTO - It’s been almost four decades since we fell in love with a charming little piece of French cinema, based on a then little-known stageplay titled LA CAGE AUX FOLLES — and a lot has changed since then. Most of us look differently, for instance, on the whole notion of same sex families, which serves to render La Cage’s portrayal of two men — one a drag queen, the other a bit of a gay Lothario — raising a son above the transvestite club they operate in the south of France at least a trifle less exotic. A revolutionary idea in the wake of the sexual revolution of the ’60s, today it would raise eyebrows only in the most right wing of circles.
In fact, even the whole idea of drag has changed significantly, as transvestites in the know move away from the gender-based tromp l’oeil popular then in favour of a broader androgyny that celebrates elements of both sexes in an often mind- (and certainly gender-) bending explosion of feather boas and broad biceps. So it’s hardly surprising that the latest version of the musical adapted from that movie reflects those new realities in a pared-down touring version which took to the stage of the Royal Alexandra Friday as the latest entry in the Mirvish subscription series.
For openers, British director Terry Johnson pulls out all the stops in his portrayal of the seedy French nightclub in which the show is set, challenging his chorus, as well as many of his principals, to go completely over the top in their performances. It often feels like it is not life they are sending up as much as the music of Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s adaptation of Jean Poiret’s stageplay.
In fact, things are so over the top in the first act, as George Hamilton and Christopher Sieber’s characters set the stage in both the club they own and the home they share above it, that it all threatens to get a trifle tedious, their antics incapable of masking neither the annoying performance by Jeigh Madjus as their sexually ambiguous butler nor an utterly white-bread turn from Michael Lowney as Jean-Michel, the priggish son they have raised, only to lose him to the daughter of a politician of the rabid right.
As the drag queen, Albin, Sieber goes broad on the Ethel Merman front, while Hamilton gives an oddly endearing but detached performance as Georges that, over the course of three hours, not only wins over his audience but almost convinces them he can sing.
In the second act, the production falls victim to the modern-day penchant for portraying villains as mere fools, rendering Dindon, the right-wing-politician played by Bernard Burak Sheredy, a bit of a straw dog in the process. But happily, the production still manages to drive home the same strong message that the play and the movie delivered almost 40 years ago and it does so with a lot of heart. And while the notion that it is finally love that defines a family might have been groundbreaking back then, it is certainly no less moving in today’s world.