Starring George Hamilton, Christopher Sieber. Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Book by Harvey Fierstein. Directed by Terry Johnson. Royal Alexandra Theatre, to Nov. 18.
By coincidence, the Broadway-revival tour of La Cage Aux Folles, which stars tanning salon icon George Hamilton, is playing Toronto at the same time as another classic queer-themed show, The Normal Heart. Whereas the latter, Larry Kramer’s landmark 1985 drama about the AIDS crisis, still burns with a passion that has kept it from becoming dated, the lighthearted La Cage from 1983 now looks as innocuous as a drag act on a Disney cruise.
That’s partly a testament to how far the LGBT community has progressed in three decades. But it’s also because La Cage just isn’t a great musical. Apart from that Pride-appropriated anthem, “I Am What I Am,” the pseudo-Gallic songs by the predictably brassy Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!) are forgettable. The book by Harvey Fierstein, adapted from Jean Poiret’s play-turned-film, is a low-stakes farce with a dearth of funny lines and Terry Johnson’s direction does little to improve it. The only real attraction is the flamboyant role of Albin/Zaza, the transvestite star of the show’s titular Saint-Tropez nightclub, who also happens to be the loving maternal figure to his long-time partner’s adult son.
This queen mother is played here with sweet joie de vivre by husky Christopher Sieber, who is irresistible, whether he’s kitted out like Marilyn Monroe on steroids or trying (and failing) to act straight to fool a homophobic politician. But the amiable Hamilton, as his partner Georges, is a triple no-threat, while the other cast members (aside from a splendidly catty Jeigh Madjus) are just as mediocre. The truth is that, for drag-queen exuberance and a heartwarming family message, La Cage has since been surpassed by Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.