Drag queen warm-up act Lilly White Ass asks the opening-night audience Tuesday for “La Cage Aux Folles” rhetorically, “Do you know what our drag name is for George Hamilton? Melanie Noma!”
And with that, the touring production of the 2010 Tony Award winner for Best Musical Revival starring Hamilton was off to a rip-roarin’ start in the beautiful Reynolds Hall at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
I’m familiar with the 1996 hit comedy “The Birdcage” starring Robin Williams, Gene Hackman and an over-the-top hilarious Nathan Lane, but I’ve never seen “La Cage Aux Folles” onstage or on DVD. What an oversight. (For those like me before Tuesday night: “The Birdcage” is very faithful to “La Cage.”)
Without it being preachy or heavy-handed, “La Cage,” which clocks in at a surprisingly brisk 3 hours with a 20-minute intermission, is the story of two parents -- Dad and (a very maternal) Dad -- dealing with the engagement of their 20-year-old son into a ultra-conservative political family. The overall message of family values is universal: Gay, straight, whatever, the love of family and the freedom to be oneself are basic human rights, not special rights.
“La Cage” is a joy to behold from start to finish: the sets and costumes are glamorous, dazzling and colorful (the larger-than-life corset and the staircase for the cabaret nightclub are standouts); the story and dialogue are at once laugh-out-loud funny and surprisingly emotional and touching; and the performances are energetic and tour-de-force.
It would be easy to dismiss the famously tan Hamilton as stunt casting, but the 73-year-old(!) Hollywood icon is game -- gayme?! -- playing Georges, the gay cabaret nightclub owner in St. Tropez. Hamilton sings, dances and does a mean John Wayne impression (vocally and in gait -- gayt?!).
The supporting cast is superb. The “Les Cagelles” dancers -- Angelique (Matt Anctil), Bitelle (Logan Keslar), Chantal (Donald C. Shorter Jr.), Hanna (Mark Roland), Mercedes (Terry Lavell) and Phaedra (Trevor Downey) -- look and are amazing. Georges and Albin’s son Jean-Michel (Michael Lowney) and his fiancee Anne (Allison Blair McDowell) are the delightfully innocent young couple in love who bring together liberal and conservative worlds. And family butler Jacob (Jeigh Madjus) -- who wants to be a maid, not a butler, and a performer -- is expectedly and fiercely campy.
But the star of “La Cage” is Christopher Sieber as Albin -- Georges’ partner of 20 years and Zaza, the star of the cabaret nightclub. His zingers -- as Albin, Zaza or “Mother” -- hit the nail on the head over and over and over again. Sieber sounds like Lane (and looks like him in the face), but he still makes Albin all his. Sieber’s Act 1 closer, “I Am What I Am,” is a showstopper; he knocks it out of the park in a glitzy and glamorous gold gown.
Fabulous. Funny. Irreverent. “La Cage” is worth seeing again and again and again. C’est magnifique! (And now to find my DVD of “The Birdcage.”)
Thanks to Tom Donoghue for his opening-night photo gallery. “La Cage Aux Folles,” directed by Terry Johnson, is at Reynolds Hall in the Smith Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday. Go to the Smith Center website for more information and to purchase tickets.
Don Chareunsy is editor of VegasDeLuxe.com and senior editor, arts and entertainment, of LasVegasSun.com.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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