The touring production of Jerry Herman's musicalized version of "La Cage aux Folles," now at The Smith Center, is a lot of fun and surprisingly romantic. As co-star George Hamilton told the Review-Journal, it hits the funny notes, as well as the heartfelt ones.
Adapted by Harvey Fierstein from the noteworthy French film of the same title, the script takes us backstage at an "open-minded" St. Tropez nightclub. Our flustered proprietor Georges (Hamilton) is trying to get his longtime lover and drag queen star Albin (Christopher Sieber) over his latest tantrum and onto the stage. Things get complicated when Georges' 24-year-old son announces he's getting married and wants to bring over his extremely conservative future in-laws - without the extremely effeminate Albin present. Albin's been a lifelong "mother" to the son, so this is big-time hurtful stuff. The attempts to solve the predicament make for heavy doses of hilarity, topped by a moving reconciliation. If only life were really so easy.
Director Terry Johnson helps energize material that could easily feel dated today. (Remember when the musical came out in 1983 and was considered shocking?) The situation comedy is often predictable, but it's so spontaneously played that you enjoy going along for the ride.
The story gives the show to Sieber, who cuts through the possible cliche of the temperamental gay star with recognizable but unique human traits. Sieber never coasts on the laughs, though he nails them all. And he's a rare Albin in that he legitimately sings the score. He's towering, strong, sensual and vulnerable.
Hamilton is a comfortable, chummy presence with a pleasant musical voice. He doesn't have enough to do, but he manages to connect with Sieber in a way that makes you believe in Georges and Albin's relationship. (What a mess this production would be if the two stars couldn't create that kind of chemistry.)
Some might find it hard to believe, but Hamilton is more than just a handsome face.
The small roles are often made exceptional. The "Les Cagelles" chorus is athletic, dainty and nimble. As the restaurant manager Jacqueline, Gay Marshall projects not only a marvelously no-nonsense belt, but a cut-throat wit that feels dangerous. Bernard Burak Sheredy as the menacing future father-in-law is perfectly stiff-necked and threatening. And Jeigh Madjus, as the loyal but high-maintenance maid/butler Jacob (he pronounces it Jay-ko-bee) is so precise and versatile in his drop-dead delivery and movement that you chuckle at the mere sight of him.
Michael Lowney, as the son, proves the only major problem. He has the voice of an angel and dances well. But his line readings are robotic and foppish. It's difficult to believe that Albin would embarrass him.
Technical designs are first-rate. It's always a pleasure to look at the stage.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that the script and score don't always do justice to the possibilities. This is not a top-tier musical.
But it sure is a good time.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheater firstname.lastname@example.org. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.