Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein’s La Cage Aux Folles is back, with 1960s heartthrob George Hamilton as nightclub manager George and Broadway’s Christopher Sieber as the fabulously flamboyant Albin, the star of George’s drag show and the love of his life.

 Based on the 1973 French play of the same name, one that spawned a hit French-Italian movie, a pair of sequels, an American film adaptation, and this 1983 Broadway smash, La Cage Aux Folles has had quite a fabulous past leading up its current National Tour.

Revived on Broadway in 2004 and a second time just six years later, it is this scaled-down West End-to-Broadway transfer, winner of both the Olivier award and the Tony as Best Musical Revival, that has now made its way to Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center For The Arts, and despite featuring only half the number of men-in-drag Cagelles as its previous Broadway incarnations, La Cage’s entertainment value remains high, thanks to a top-drawer cast, a farcical storyline as tangy as ever, glitzy costumes, over-the-top wigs, and a bunch of Broadway Show Tunes as only Jerry Herman can write them.

As art film and Broadway buffs will recall, La Cage Aux Folles sets its plot wheels a-turnin’ when George’s adult son (the result of his father’s one and only heterosexual one-night fling) announces to Papa his impending nuptials to the daughter of a right-wing, anti-gay politician. As if this horrific news weren’t already enough, young Jean-Michel is insistent that his surrogate “Mom” Albin not be present when Anne and her parents come to meet their daughter’s fiancé’s family. Not surprisingly, this causes considerable ruffling of feathers, especially those worn in one of the many boas Albin sports as drag performer extraordinaire Zaza.

 With one catchy Herman tune after another (including the sing-along-ready “The Best Of Times” and the gay anthem “I Am What I Am”), a hilarious book by gay icon Fierstein, and a message of love and acceptance even more relevant in 2012 than when it debuted in New York nearly thirty years ago, La Cage Aux Folles is Broadway musical entertainment at its best.

Though some may bemoan the loss of a half dozen Cagelles between the 2004 and 2010 revivals and the downscaling of a Broadway-sized pit orchestra to a mere four musicians performing in a pair of loges on opposite sides of the proscenium, the resulting production actually makes for a more accurate representation of George’s gitzy yet somewhat tawdry French Riviera nightclub.

Directed with pizzazz and visual flair by Terry Johnson and featuring eye-catching choreography by Lynne Page (the same creative duo who helmed the 2008 London revival), La Cage Aux Folles The Tour gains Hollywood star power from Hamilton, still looking fit and in form at seventy-two. Is the star of 1960’s Where The Boys Are at least a couple decades too old to play George? Is his acting not quite up to Broadway standards? Could a 40something triple threat sing the part better than Hamilton, as Sieber certainly did on Broadway opposite Harvey Fierstein’s Albin? The answer to all three questions is an unequivocal “yes,” yet Hamilton brings over five decades of star power to the role, and that is something not to be unappreciated.

 La Cage’s real star is, not surprisingly, Sieber, whom Broadway fans know from his Tony-nominated work in both Spamalot and Shrek The Musical, and TV buffs will recall from starring roles in Two Of A Kind and It’s All Relative. Following in the grand tradition set by Tony-winning (or nominated) Albins George Hearn, Gary Beach, and Douglas Hodge, Sieber simply couldn’t be more colorful, more touching, more hilarious, or more (forgive the overused adjective) fabulous in the role. That he has graduated from the relatively staid George to the show-stopping Albin in addition to being an out-and-proud actor for nearly a decade now only adds to the excitement of Sieber’s scene-stealing performance.

And speaking of stealing scenes, a sensational Jeigh Madjus does just that as Jacob, George and Albin’s Cagelle-wannabe butler-turned-maid, a role Madjus plays like a gay male Filipino Eartha Kitt at her growliest.

As George and Albin’s ungrateful prick of a son, the ever-so-handsome Michael Lowney sings gorgeously opposite a charming Allison Blair McDowell as Anne, and does thank goodness get a redeeming eleventh hour conversion to filial love, gratitude, and respect. (Apologies for the spoiler, though anyone who can’t see it coming probably hasn’t seen enough TV movie happy endings.)

Southland native (and National Tour Queen) Cathy Newman nails the plum dual roles of Promenade Café co-owner Madame Renaud and Madame Dindon, repressed wife of Jean-Michel’s ultra-conservative future father-in-law, more than ready to bust out of her shell—and dowdy wardrobe—when given the chance and a spangled white unitard and blonde mane of a wig.

Other supporting roles are handled quite niftily by Dale Hensley as La Cage stage manager Francis, Bernard Burak Sheredy as Messieurs Dindon and Renaud, and an inexplicably French-accented but otherwise delightful Gay Marshall as restauranteuse Jacqueline, along with Wilson Bridges (Etienne), Katie Donohue (Colette), Suellen Estey (Babette), Todd Thurston (Waiter), and Danny Vaccaro (Tabarro).

 Last but very certainly not least are the leggy, gym-buff glamazons known as Les Cagelles—assistant dance captain Matt Anctil as Angelique, Logan Keslar as Bitelle, Donald C. Shorter, Jr. as Chantal, Mark Roland as Hanna, Terry Lavell as Mercedes, and Trevor Downey as Phaedra, chanteuses-danseuses whom Fierstein’s book, Johnson’s direction, and six consummate triple-threats have given each one her own distinct personality and style.

Choreographer Page has created some amazingly athletic dance numbers for Les Cagelles to perform, including one particular dazzler which features all six inside a gigantic gilded cage.

Jason Carr has reorchestrated songs and written new dance arrangements for the current revival’s scaled-down orchestra, composed of music director Joey Chancey and associate conductor Ryan Cantwell on synthesizers, Brad Flicklinger on drums and percussion, and Bill Dowling on trumpet.

La Cage Aux Folles’s Broadway design team includes Tim Shortall (scenic design), Matthew Wright (costume design), Nick Richings (lighting design), Jonathan Deans (sound design), and Richard Mawbey (wig & makeup design). Not surprisingly Wright’s costumes and Mawbey’s wigs get the biggest round of applause for their glamour and glitz, though all design elements are topnotch.

Providing pre-show audience warm-up is statuesque Todd Lattimore, bewigged and begowned as drag queen standup Lili Whiteass, cueing theatergoers in from the get-go to the fact that there will be no political correctness (or tolerance for homophobia) while La Cage Aux Folles is at the Segerstrom.

Lattimore and fellow swings Christophe Caballero (dance captain) and Lauren Sprague are on hand to step into Cagelles heels should any of the sextet be indisposed.

Michael McGoff is production stage manager.

Not having seen any previous big stage productions of La Cage Aux Folles, I can’t compare this latest La Cage with those which have gone before, and there will doubtless be some who will bemoan the loss of ten cast members, cut from the current revival. I for one am quite crazy (or should I say fou?) for what’s onstage in Costa Mesa. To paraphrase Jerry Herman, the best of times are indeed now—and for as long as La Cage Aux Folles is in town.

Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
July 24, 2012
Photos: Paul Kolnik

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