Friday, August 10, 2012

THEATRE REVIEW: "La Cage aux Folles" at Broadway San Diego

“La Cage” is fun, fabulous, and (a little bit) frazzled:
Broadway veteran Christopher Sieber steals the show as the dazzling crown jewel of Broadway SD’s toned-down touring production

By Donnie Matsuda

Bedazzled in sparkly jewels, a gorgeous gown, and heels as high as Heaven, a fierce and fabulous club chanteuse Zaza tells us about the concept behind the bawdy San Tropez nightclub of the musical’s title.

“Here at ‘La Cage aux Folles,’” the drag queen formerly known as Albin bemusedly quips, “we live life…oh, how shall I put it...on an angle.” 

The Cagelles in "La Cage aux Folles."  Photo by Paul Kolnik.
That’s not just a fitting description of the nightclub itself (whose riff-raff patrons and cross-dressing chorus were perhaps more shocking in the 1970’s than today), but it is also a pretty good way to describe the most recent touring production of the tuneful and timeless musical, currently ruffling San Diego’s feathers through August 12 at the SD Civic Theatre.

The production – which features a dazzling star turn by Christopher Sieber as Zaza/Albin and a not-so-dazzling star turn by George Hamilton as Georges – definitely takes to heart the musical’s main message: that we should be proud of who we are and that we should not be ashamed of our faults and imperfections, no matter how blatantly obvious they are.  In many ways, this national tour dares to be different and makes no apologies for living a stage life that’s a little askew, a lot off-kilter, and totally “on an angle”.  From a scaled down chorus of Cagelles who work hard to stand out by putting their own personal spin on Lynne Page’s high kicking choreography (which itself is edgier, more macabre, and more masculine than previous revivals) to the technical elements of Tim Shortall’s hodge-podge set and Nick Richings less-than-glamorous lighting, to the toned down nature of Terry Johnson’s more intimate directorial vision, this is definitely a version of “La Cage” in which different is deemed better.

Christopher Sieber as Zaza and George Hamilton as Georges.  Photo by Paul Kolnik.
The success and staying power of “La Cage” is evident in its impressive history on the Great White Way. The original 1983 Broadway production ran for four years and won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book.  And the glitz and glamour continued to sparkle in a West End production in 1986.  But, what is most intriguing (and impressive) about “La Cage” is its popularity and accolades on the revival circuit.  The 2004 Broadway revival won the Tony Award for Best Revival, the 2008 London revival garnered the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival, and the most recent 2010 Broadway revival (on which this current national tour is based) was nominated for eleven Tony Awards and won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.    

Overall, this newest touring production succeeds in keeping Harvey Fierstein’s masterful book and Jerry Herman’s sublime score bouncing along for nearly three hours without too many rough patches.  Most of the credit is due to Sieber’s tour-de-force performance (one of the best Zaza’s this reviewer has ever seen) in which he mines every gesture, maintains every expression, and delves deeply into every emotion of his multi-faceted character.  Not only does he nail the many comedic and heartfelt nuances of the role, but he also boasts some incredibly powerful, pitch-perfect pipes that simply soar in his amazing anthem “I Am What I Am” and delight in his rousing and inspiring “The Best of Times (Is Now),” the latter being the best number in the entire show.  It is perhaps unfair to pair Sieber’s monumental talent with that of Hamilton, a film and television actor who has little to no credits in the realm of musical theatre.  But, despite his talky-singing with little to no sustained notes and his attempts to dance on an injured ankle, the 73-year old Hamilton does pull out the stops in the charm department and manages to delight his audience with his dashing good looks and slick showmanship.

Christopher Sieber as Zaza.  Photo by Paul Kolnik.
The rest of the cast is solid and each turns in some genuinely fetching performances.  Most interesting is Jeigh Madjus as the small but mighty butler…er, “maid,” Jacob.  While he is rather unconventional for the role in both looks and attitude, he still manages to extract plenty of laughs from his fierce and fabulous one-liners.  As Jean-Michel, Michael Lowney boasts a lovely tenor and is nicely paired with a delightful Allison Blair McDowell as a sweet-voiced Anne.  Gay Marshall adds plenty of zest and “joie de vivre” to the role of restaurant owner Jacqueline, while Bernard Burak Sheredy as M. Renaud/M. Dindon and Cathy Newman as Mme. Renaud/Mme. Dindon provide plenty of comedy in their foppish roles.  And let’s not forget the terrific ensemble cast of Cagelles: 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.  They deserve special mention here for their eye-popping high kicks, jump splits, and acrobatic flips (all executed in heels, no less!).     

So, even with this smaller, more eclectic staging, “La Cage” still manages to pack quite a musical punch…even “on an angle.”  It is a show with a lot of heart and soul and it is truly wonderful to see it is still kicking up its bedazzled heels and flaunting its feather boas for generations to come.

George Hamilton and Christopher Sieber (center) with the company of "La Cage aux Folles."  Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Things to know before you go: La Cage aux Folles presented by Broadway San Diego plays at The San Diego Civic Theatre at 3rd and B Street through August 12, 2012.  Running time is 3 hours with a 20 minute intermission.  Ticket prices vary.  For more information and to purchase tickets, visit, call (888) 937-8995, or visit

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