Walking out of this past Tuesday’s opening-night performance of “La Cage Aux Folles” at the Kravis Center, I was less wowed by the spectacle of Broadway touring talent than I was impressed by our own homegrown casts and crews. Two years ago, the Maltz Jupiter Theatre staged its own regional production of this ambitious production, and the result was at least as good – if not better, in some respects – than the current Broadway tour.
Surely, you know the story of “La Cage Aux Folles” already. In shorthand, it’s about the gay proprietor of a transvestite burlesque in Saint-Tropez (played by George Hamilton here) who is forced to suppress his sexuality – and disguise his flamboyant lover and stage star Albin (Christopher Sieber) – when his son announces his pending nuptials to the daughter of a nasty, ultra-conservative politician. The sets and costumes write themselves, but this production transcribes them beautifully. The nightclub is a hedonistic panoply of leather, feathers, glitter and satin, fitted tightly on saucy, gender-bending performers who give their acrobatic all.
As for the rest of the production, opening night felt, frankly, like an opening night. Toward the beginning of Act Two, for a solid minute and a half, a sound resembling an electric buzzsaw reverberated backstage, nearly drowning out the dialogue, which was on shaky ground to begin with. George Hamilton, in the co-leading role of Georges, muddles through much of his dialogue, and he was a struggle to understand from the dim cheap seats with which I was saddled. His name recognition alone made him a magnet for applause, but his performance is the stiffest and most uncomfortable on the stage. He seems to be on autopilot, and, frankly, he looks and sounds too old for the part to begin with; he’s 72, so we must assume his character was nearly 50 when he gave birth to his son.
Christopher Sieber, on the other hand, is a joy to watch as Albin, apparently absorbing all of Hamilton’s energy and funneling it through a performance that encapsulates every emotion under the rainbow. His wittiest lines have the air of ad-libbing; when climbing down to the crowd in one scene, he mentions the recent Republican primary process, and quips, “It was close for a while between the Mormon and the polygamist.”
On the other hand, he carries the show’s entire dramatic depth on his sequined shoulders, and his transformation of the opening number “We Are What We Are” into the Act One closer “I Am What I am” turns a song of cheeky humor into an anthem of proud defiance. It’s a real showstopper from a seasoned pro; lyricist Jerry Herman would be delighted with it. (That said, even Sieber flubbed a line on opening night, slipping in an F-bomb where none existed.)
The production, which runs through Sunday, is not the best “La Cage” you’ll ever see, especially if you enjoyed the Maltz’s stunning rendering a couple of years back. But the show is still a potent denunciation of prejudice and a paean to acceptance that, every year, feels a little more relevant. As recent news cycles have indicated, the culture wars are not going away, and the more times intolerance rears its ugly head, the more times “La Cage” will put it in its place.
“La Cage Aux Folles” is at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd. Tickets are $25 and up. Call 561/832-7469 or visit kravis.org.