I suppose there was time when La Cage Aux Folles seemed cutting-edge, maybe even shocking. But that time wasn't last Tuesday, when the national tour opened a three-week run at the Buell Theatre in Denver. Instead this show, which first opened on Broadway in 1983, just seemed tired and musty, like a rerun of a 1950s sitcom in which the characters look like real people but act completely different than anyone you've ever met.
The tour is based on the 2010 revival, which won critical raves as well as three Tony Awards. Set along the French Riviera, the story (adapted by the great Harvey Fierstein) centers on a homosexual couple who own the area's most popular drag club. Georges is the suave master of ceremonies and easily flustered "husband." Albin is the flamboyant boa-wearing star and wisecracking "wife."
In an odd bit of "star" casting, Georges is played by the eternally tan and apparently ageless George Hamilton, whom Baby Boomers will remember as the guest star of 1001 TV shows in the 1970s and 1980s and Generation X-ers won't remember at all. I say "odd" because I doubt there's a single person alive who would buy a ticket based on his name alone, and yet he doesn't really bring much in the acting or singing departments.
But damn, I wish I looked that good in a smoking jacket.
Fortunately, the producers made a coup of a different sort by landing the less well-known but much more talented Christopher Sieber, a Broadway veteran who wore out the knees on more than one pair of pants as Lord Farquaad in Shrek the Musical. His Albin is a comic masterpiece, a great big bundle of energy who cavorts around the stage like a gay Kevin James, yet in his more tender moments imbues his character with heartbreaking honesty.
For Georges and Albin, the feathers hit the fan when Georges' son Jean-Michel comes home to announce that he's engaged.
"You're a boy, she's a girl," Albin complains. "What would you possibly have to talk about?"
It gets worse. Way worse. Anne's father is a smarmy homophobe who's the head of the country's Tradition, Family and Morality Party (I understand it goes by another name in this country). And Jean-Michel has invited Anne's parents to meet them.
Correction. He only wants them to meet Georges. Albin, the man who raised Jean-Michel from infancy, can take a hike.
Even less credibly, Georges immediately buys into the plan, even suggesting that they invite Jean-Michel's biological mother, a flaky actress whom he hasn't seen — or missed — in more than 20 years, to maintain a semblance of heterosexual normalcy.
Jean-Michel is able to justify all this by pointing out that Anne is nothing like her father. Oddly, it doesn't occur to him — or anyone else, it seems — that in driving Albin away, Jean-Michel has become exactly like her father.
Of course, anyone who's familiar with farce knows that Sybil will never show up. And Albin jumps at the chance to step into her shoes. Not to mention her bra and garter.
The rest of the cast is mostly forgettable. Michael Lowney doesn't even try to make Jean-Michel likable. And Katie Donohue as Anne gives a performance remarkable mostly for its blandness, making one wonder what Jean-Michel ever saw in her in the first place.
But then the real star of the show is the man who couldn't be there: composer/lyricist Jerry Herman, best known for big splashy musicals like Hello Dolly and Mame but who found his truest and most moving voice when he helped create this quirky little show.
Hamilton doesn't do Herman any favors with his strained version of ballads like "Look Over There." But it doesn't matter, because Sieber gets all the best songs anyway.
And does he bang them out of the park, leading the entire dinner party in a rousing rendition of "The Best of Times." And if you're not moved to tears by his unapologetic belting of "I Am What I Am" — probably the greatest Act I closer in musical theater history — then you're just not listening.
La Cage Aux Folles
Through September 16, Tuesdays through Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Buell Theatre, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1101 13th St., Denver, Tickets, $25 to $105; call 800/641-1222 or visit denvercenter.org for information.