Celebrity casting is all well and good when the celebrity in question is up to the role.
Based on his performance as Georges in La Cage aux Folles, however, George Hamilton is not up to much these days beyond flashing a creepy smile. Not that the original tanorexic’s happy-happy face-flex isn’t impressive in its own way; when he pulls up the corners of his mouth and squints his eyes, he’s a dead ringer for Michael Douglas with two baby buttocks grafted onto his cheeks. If he’d just pee in a bucket while doing this trick, you could put him in a gallery and call it performance art.
Otherwise, well, you’ve heard of triple threats – Hamilton’s a triple dud, not excelling in any of the traditional dancing, acting or singing departments that are usually considered prerequisites for starring in musicals.
This is a shame, because this touring production of La Cage Aux Folles, directed by master farceur Terry Johnson, has other things going for it – namely, a show-stopping performance from Christopher Sieber as drag performer Albin.
You probably know the plot, if not from having seen this 1983 musical from Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!, Mame) before, then from the 1996 non-musical movie, The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.
Georges, who runs a Saint-Tropez nightclub, had an experimental night with an actress 24 years prior to the start of the show. Along with his partner Albin, who performs in the club as lady Zaza, he’s raised the accidental offspring that resulted.
Now Jean-Michel (a depressingly flat Michael Lowney) has returned from a vacation engaged to Anne (Katie Donohue), a young woman perfect in practically every way except that her father is a professional political homophobe named Monsieur Dindon (Bernard Burak Sheredy).
And so, Jean-Michel gives Albin the cold shoulder, demanding that for one night only Georges reunite with his birth mother for a meet-the-parents dinner. Even if you haven’t seen a version of the story, you can see where this is going.
In a country that legalized same-sex marriage seven years ago, La Cage Aux Folles’ preachy appeal to tolerance can feel dated. Certainly, the scenes where Albin is taught to walk like a manly man and drink tea with his pinkie down certainly seem pitched to a different era.
But the heart of the story comes from Albin’s enduring commitment to Georges and his son, even as they betray him. Sieber makes this struggle tremendously touching. He segues between entertaining, virtuosic cabaret numbers as Zaza and the necessary dramatic moments with impressive dexterity. To my mind, he’s a stronger and less stereotypical Albin than Douglas Hodge, who starred in this revival when it was on Broadway (and who won a Tony for it).
Also fierce as ever are the six fellows who play “Les Cagelles,” the drag queens who perform alongside Zaza. These are some otherworldly creatures – tall, unbelievably flexible chorus boys who do things with their long, muscled legs that do not seem possible for man, woman or beast. Lynne Page’s choreography for them ranges from subtle to comical to downright terrifying – notably when they launch themselves upon Dindon like it’s Action de Grâce.
As a wannabe Cagelle and Albin’s “maid” Jacob, Toronto’s own Jeigh Madjus is a ball of electricity, but needs to be more better conducted; his consistently shrill approach to the role wears thin eventually.
It’s a pity Sieber’s big scenes – save his solo number, I Am What I Am, which he knocks out of the ballpark – are so often played opposite the weak-voiced Hamilton, but, well, it’s not supposed to be a one-man musical. Perhaps others with more fondness for Hamilton – or, frankly, familiarity with him – will more easily overlook its shortcomings than I.