IF YOU GO
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday & Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts, 5833 Pelican Bay Boulevard, Naples
Information: 800-597-1900 or thephil.org
Something Else: Ask for seats on the left aisle if you want a closer look at some of the costumes; cast members enter and exit that way.
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NAPLES — It's nice to see George Hamilton perform live. You can't underestimate the impact of six strapping young boys in heels and corsets vamping across the stage. But a ten-minute intro with sassy drag queen Betty Wite-Out was nearly the best part of the "La Cage Aux Folles" tour at the Philharmonic.
"La Cage Aux Folles" focuses on a gay couple who owns a French Riviera nightclub. Their son decides to marry and brings home the daughter of an ultra-conservative politician.
The original 1983 Broadway production, with book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman was based on a 1973 French play of the same name. The 1996 Robin Williams and Nathan Lane film "The Birdcage" moved the action to Miami Beach, but otherwise, everything else is pretty much the same. The old Naples Dinner Theatre also produced a version in March 2006.
The current tour has a lengthy history. It is descended from a stripped-down 2008 revival at the Menier Chocolate Factory, a 180-seat fringe theater in south London. That show transferred to the West End in the fall of 2008 and then to Broadway in April 2010. The tour comes from the New York production, which won a Tony for Best Musical revival. Christopher Sieber (Albin) and several of the Les Cagelles dancers played their roles on Broadway.
The pedigree does not, unfortunately, give the show any much-needed "oomph." "La Cage" lumbers along for nearly three hours with nary a care for believable characters or something that passes for acting.
The "La Cage" plot - ultra-conservatives and their dislike of gays - hasn't aged well. The theme, groundbreaking in the '70s, a white-hot culture war in the '80s and mainstream in the '90s, feels tired, angry and a little sad now. Fierstein's mushy dialogue preaches - but doesn't allow you to understand anything about the people on the stage.
There's no nuance to the show. None. Characters are sinners or saints - and redemption comes out of the blue with a spotlight, a heartfelt speech and tinkling keys that signal a big 11 o'clock number.
Here, Albin is a martyr without reproach. Anne's parents are "evil moral crusaders." The son, Jean-Michel, an unfeeling cad. At least "The Birdcage," as flawed as it was, tried to give its primary characters some shadings, although the girl's parents were still "very bad people."
None of this would be unforgivable if the show managed to make you care about anything or anyone. Or if it found humor in anything but the easiest of gay stereotypes. It doesn't. It can't. "La Cage" simply beats its message - to thine own self be true - into the audience with a platform heel and sprinkles some glitter over the mess on the way out.
Only the spectacular dance numbers, featuring Tony nominee Lynne Page's frantic, frenetic movement - and towering, rail-thin, muscular boys wearing outlandish costumes lift the show from slog to something.
The six Les Cagelles absolutely serve up a SHOW - all capitals, full stop. They're fierce, fabulous, ferocious warriors - demanding that you pay attention to them. Signature dance number "La Cage Aux Folles" - coming at the tail end of a limp first act and featuring a twelve-foot gilded "birdcage" that holds the sextet - felt like it was going to set the audience on fire.
And just let me say that if the sight of a six-foot-plus dude wearing enough silver spangles to cover a Cadillac, wearing four-inch glitter platforms, a headdress and carrying an ostrich feather fan doesn't get your attention - nothing will. Yet, all the feathers whirling furiously in the spotlights can't froth up a genuine bit of emotion on the stage.
Hamilton, for all that he's a legend, doesn't just phone it in as Georges - he dials desultorily from Bermuda, where he's presumably working a little more on his famous tan. It's very real - and almost the color of the stage floor. Oh, he says the lines and flashes a mega-watt smile, but there's almost no timing to his delivery - or chemistry with the other actors. The name might sell a few extra tickets - but it doesn't help the show. FEATURE: Harriet Heithaus interviewed Hamilton about his role in the show.
Two-time Tony nominee Christopher Sieber makes an appealing Albin (the drag queen performer played by Nathan Lane in the film). It sometimes feels that he's working overtime to try and goose a leaden show, but at least he's trying.
The actor knows how to play a crowd, easing down the steps to joke with the audiences or stepping to the lip of the stage to show of a costume. Three words: Motorized leopard bustier. His charm goes a long way toward making the mess palatable - just not far enough. Watching Sieber belt out "I Am What I Am," the first half's rallying, rousing curtain number, easily crowned the night.
Jeigh Madjus sparkles as mad maid/butler Jacob. The diminutive actor flits about the stage, constantly in motion. He's a lively butterfly dipping into a constant box of wigs (the powdered curls of Versailles!) and outfits (a leopard lame tankini!) to bring a breath of fresh air and vitality. Gay Marshall also has a few fun moments as socialite and restaurant owner Jacqueline.
The scenic design uses a modified proscenium and parks the musicians in alcoves a floor above the doors actors use to enter and exit the stage. The playing space can feel a little more generic coast than French, although the nightclub interiors feel like living inside a disco ball. Not that that's a problem, mind you. And the clothes (or lack thereof) are a showgirl's dream.
"La Cage Aux Folles" glitters, but there's little underneath the sparkles, bright lights and the make-up. The show never feels cohesive, even though it features some spectacular choreography and a charming, winning performance from Sieber. Don't miss the quip-filled draq queen pre-show or the amazing acrobatics from the brilliant, blazing Les Cagelles dancers.