La Cage Aux Folles | 01.04.11

cage smHail, Sieber!

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Fox Theatre, St. Louis

A young man comes home with news that he plans to marry. His parents aren’t completely thrilled because he’s young (24) and they have concerns about his fiancée whom they’ve not met. The son wants to bring his future in-laws to meet them the very next day, and chaos ensues. This is not an uncommon scenario, but what makes it noteworthy here is that said parents are a Saint Tropez nightclub owner, Georges (George Hamilton), and the leading lady of his floor shows, Zaza (Christopher Sieber), a drag queen. In daily life, Zaza is Albin, an effeminate, flamboyant gay man who has raised Jean-Michel (Billy Harrigan Tighe) in place of the mother he literally never had. His birth mother, Sybil, left him on Georges’ doorstep and resigned from her child’s life.

So, it’s no surprise when Albin is heartbroken that Jean-Michel wants him to disappear for the night so his father can pretend to be married to his “real” mother and not shock his betrothed, Anne’s (Allison Blair McDowell), conservative political father, M. Dindon (Bruce Winant) and his mousy wife, Mme. Dindon (Cathy Newman). Georges deeply loves Albin and his son, so he has a tough choice, but he decides to “de-gay” their apartment by moving out “suggestive pieces” and adding ancestral paintings and a crucifix. The sofa is even replaced with a church pew. After all, it’s only for one night.

Sieber makes us genuinely hurt for Albin, and he seals the deal with the first act curtain number, “I Am What I Am.” That this powerful voice and these emotions are coming from a man in a sparkling evening gown doesn’t take away one iota from its impact. Georges listens silently in the background, and after Albin has fled the stage, and the lights come up, the audience was still applauding enthusiastically. That is a rare moment in theater.

The couple lives above La Cage Aux Folles (the name means “birdcage”) attended by their butler who wants to be in the show (and also wants to be called a “maid”). Jeigh Madjus is a delight as the clumsy Jacob for whom the word “zany” might have been invented (or at least passed on from Lucy Ricardo). He resents being ordered to act like a servant, even though, well, that’s what he’s supposed to be. But most of the visual delights take place downstairs during the performances of the Cagelles, La Cage’s “birds”who are amazing singers, dancers and acrobats in their own right when they aren’t backing up Zaza. Georges is the unctuous master of ceremonies. Another small but important role is played by Gay Marshall as Jacqueline, the owner of a fine restaurant, friend of Albin and Georges, and a catalyst for a key plot twist near the end of the show.

La Cage Aux Folles has a record three Tony Awards for best production, first in 1984. With music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s book, it has become a staple of musical theater. I remember seeing it at the Fox many years ago, and also at the Muny, but this incarnation is the best of the bunch, and that is due mainly to the complete investment two-time Tony nominee Sieber makes in creating Albin. Director Terry Johnson has done a lot of good things with the show and I don’t mean to minimize any of them, but his collaboration with Sieber on how to walk the fine line between relatable and ridiculous is truly impressive. We get to know Albin and Zaza on a level usually reserved for personal acquaintances.

Zaza has fun with Matthew Wright’s costumes and so does the audience, especially a white Marilyn Monroe dress (with La Cage’s stage manager, Francis—Dale Hensley, who adds much to the show—providing the fan underneath). She wears gorgeous ensembles for her big numbers. She also has some comically frivolous frocks, and Georges looks spiffy in his bespoke suits. The Cagelles are also striking in various performance garb, and they change often. They aren’t just window dressing either, as several have speaking parts. Lynne Page’s choreography is a wonder to behold and the technical details are just right: Tim Shortall’s set, Nick Richings’ lights, and Jonathan Deans sound. Occasionally the powerful Sieber seemed overly mic-ed in duets with Hamilton who, while charming, is a marquee name, not a singer (or dancer).

Christopher Sieber played Georges to Harvey Fierstein’s Albin in New York before the show went on the road and he switched parts due to Fierstein’s unavailability to tour. In an interview for this publication he told me that seeing Fierstein play the role helped him understand Albin better, and playing the other lead showed him how the relationship between the two characters worked from Georges’ point of view. However he got there, he will make you laugh, make you cry, and most important in the world we find ourselves in today, make you think. | Andrea Braun

La Cage Aux Folles runs through January 15, 2012, and there are several matinees. Visit www.fabulousfox.com for more information. There is a pre-show warm up by “Lily Wideass,” a drag queen who says she’s Betty White’s granddaughter and asks about birthdays, anniversaries, sexual orientation, and whatnot. She did occupy the time when we usually just sit there watching the mad rush at curtain by audience members who are determined to come in only at the last possible minute, but on the whole, I don’t think she added anything to the show.

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