Review: Like Tanned Headliner, "La Cage" Hasn't Lost Its Touch

Ya gotta love George Hamilton.
Here’s a guy who, really, hasn’t done much, over the years—a few choice film and TV performances here, a few cracker commercials there, and a whole lotta loving with the ladies—but still manages to enjoy fame.
It’s oh-so clear from the non-stop commercials for La Cage Aux Folles, which will be running at the State Theatre in Minneapolis from Tuesday, Oct. 18-Oct. 23 (tickets run from $35-$80), that George Hamilton enjoys, well, being George Hamilton.
And that’s why we love the Prince of Dark-Skin (for G-d’s sake, man! His tan could give passerby’s a melanoma, but hey! It’s George Hamilton, so who cares?!) so much. He’s free to flash those bright, pearly whites and live life to the hilt!
He’s like Jack Nicholson, minus the sunglasses! He’s just having a blast, no matter where he is!
And that pizzazz can be seen, all throughout the two hours and forty minutes he’s on the stage, singing and dancing. At 72, the man is still pretty limber. There are moves he knocks out of the park—er—theatre—in this terrific production of La Cage that hell, I couldn’t even do…and I’m 42 years younger!
And believe me, this is Hamilton as you’ve never seen him before: He’s no longer chasing the dames and their skirts. He’s a full-blown homosexual, managing men who dress like dames with skirts.
For those unfamiliar with the musical (or haven’t seen 1996’s Americanized remake, “The Birdcage”), based on a play by Jean Poiret, and adapted into a musical by Tony-award-winning machine, and Broadway legend (and all-to-apparent chain-smoker) Harvey Fierstein, with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!), it revolves around Georges, the owner of a slick drag cabaret theatre on the French Riviera, finding out his son, Jean-Michel, is getting married to—gasp!—a girl named Anne, whose father just happens to be a conservative politico, hell-bent on shutting down gay and drag establishments. From there, hijinks ensues: lies are told, bonds are broken and rebuilt, and the word “family” gets a whole new, touching definition.
The character of Georges suits Hamilton’s larger-than-life persona perfectly. His singing may not be on anyone’s shortlist—he does sort of a Rex Harrison-ish croon, for the most part—but he imbues his character with life, pathos and deft deadpan comedic timing. He may play a gay man, but in truth, his character, for the most part, is the straight man.
This brings us to the character, and the actor, that outshines the top-billed tanner.
A St. Paul native, Christopher Sieber, plays the flamboyant drag queen Albin, Georges’ partner, and just pulls out all the stops. Almost every number he performs is a showstopper. His performance is absolutely perfect. Not only does he have one acrobatic set of pipes, but he gives what could easily have been made into a standard-issue gay cartoon character, a dignity, a sense of pride (gay or otherwise) that can only be described as a force of nature. His rendition of “I Am What I Am,” at the close of the first act is beautiful. It’s this kind of performance that makes me proud to have the job I have, as a critic.
The supporting cast, for the most part, is phenomenal. Canadian Jeigh Madjus, making his U.S. debut, as Jacob, the family butler/maid, is a comedic revelation. He brings androgyny to a whole new comedic level. Gay Marshall, too, is terrific as a fame-chasing restaurateur.
If the younger cast, comprised of Billy Harrigan Tighe (Jean-Michel) and Allison Blair McDowell (Anne), fail to register much of an impression, it’s hard to put any blame on them. This is Hamilton and Sieber’s show… and they dominate each and every scene.
And let’s not forget the “notorious and dangerous” Cagelles (Matt Ancil, Christophe Caballero, Trevor Downey, Logan Keslar, Todd Lattimore, Terry Lavell, Mark Roland, and Donald C. Shorter, Jr.), the ever-nimble “girls” of La Cage Aux Folles. I’m sorry, but I never knew it was even possible for a man to be able to do some of the, um, moves that these drag queens do. Not gonna lie: there were a few occasions where I held on to my groin and winced with phantom pain.
The production itself, from the wonderful direction by Terry Johnson, the orchestrations and dance arrangements by Jason Carr, and Lynne Page’s stunning choreography, to the glam-filled scenic design by Tim Shortall (what a last name! Can you imagine your whole life being called a walking, talking oxymoron?! I ask you!) and the glitzy and flashy costume designs by Matthew Wright, is just outstanding. Even the curtain looked purty!!
That’s not to say the musical itself is perfect. Some of themes are a little dated and there are a few too many cheap gay jokes that may have been funny during the ‘80s, when the show was originally written, but now seem a little stale.
Still there’s so much to love, in this fun-filled production, that you’re willing to overlook some of the quirks.
Besides, after all these years, La Cage Aux Folles, like its unusually-well-preserved headliner, just is what it is.
*The FTC made me do it: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received two tickets to “La Cage for free in the hope that I would mention it on TC Jewfolk. But getting the tickets for free doesn’t mean that I was obligated to give a glowing review. See above. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Blah, blah, blah…