La Cage Aux Folles National Tour

Music and Lyrics by Jerry HermanLa Cage Aux Folles National tour

Book by Harvey Fierstein

Directed by Terry Johnson

Choreographed by Lynne Page

Music Direction by Joey Chancey

Produced by Broadway in Chicago

At the Bank of America Theatre, Chicago

Raunchy tone and miscast lead deletes charm and warmth from 2011 National Tour of La Cage Aux Folles

From entering the Bank of America Theatre, you sense that this national tour of La Cage Aux Folles is different from the extravagant productions seen here in regional theatre over the years. I last saw Theatre At The Center’s marvelous production of La Cage in 2008 and amazingly that one was far superior and more lavish than the national tour with tickets were less than half the price of this national tour. Here the  set is smaller and you’ll be greeted by a foulmouthed drag queen who set a negative tone with her insults of the audience and the city. Why?

La Cage Aux Folles National tour

British director Terry Johnson must not have trusted the material since he choose to add more crudeness and parody to Harvey Fierstein’s book. His casting of 72 year old George Hamilton (Georges) diluted the show with his stiff, almost robot-like, acting devoid of charm, warmth or credibility. Hamilton’s inability to sing and his awful comedic timing ruined the show for me. It was painful to hear Hamilton butcher such lush melodic Jerry Herman tunes such as “With You On My Arm,”  “Song On the Sand” and “Look Over There.”  Too bad since Christopher Sieber plays the drag queen and lover to Georges with gusto, hilarity and he sings the anthem “I Am What I Am” with heart-wrenching vigor.

La Cage Aux Folles National tour

From the opening number that was changed and poorly danced by the six boys (instead of the mixed gender 13 from the 1983 original), we quickly realize that this crude production is a mere parody of the lush heart-felt original that was ground-braking in 1983-84 since it featured a male-male relationship. In this production, no one will ever believe that George Hamilton and Chris Sieber have been lovers for more that 20 years. Sieber hints at Edna Tumblad from Hairspray while Hamilton resembles  a retired butler from a PBS drama.

The saving grace, if there is one, is the fully developed comedic and rich voiced performance by Christ Siebel as Albin who transforms into the glamorous chanteuse Zaza. Siebel carries the show with his commanding presence, fine singing and deft acting.

For those who have never seen La Cage Aux Folles, I guess there is enough here to  give it a look. Too bad they went for a “name” instead of someone capable of acting and singing to play Georges. Why directors want to reinterpret and dilute the essence of shows like La Cage totally escapes me. Thank God we have directors like Bill Pullinsi and Rudy Hogenmiller in Chicago who keep the original productions alive!

In this national tour, gone is the charm and warmth of the two lovers while the reduced Les Cagellas dancers stumble their way through the former show-stopper numbers. This lite version still has enough pizazz to please, even as a curiosity piece.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: December 21, 2011

Fro more info, checkout the La Cage Aux Folles page on theatreinchicago.com

At the Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, Chicago, IL, tickets $32 – $95, contact www.broadwayinchicago.com for holiday schedule, running time is 2 hours, 45 minutes with intermission, through January 1, 2012