Time has played tricks on “La Cage Aux Folles.” What in 1984 seemed shocking or titillating as two older St. Tropez gentlemen try to maintain a normal family life, now feels quaint and even tame in a climate of increasingly ho-hum acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The energetic but slipshod touring version of Terry Johnson’s 2010 London and Gotham revival doesn’t make much of a case for the material’s continued robustness. Enjoyment requires an appetite for irrelevant shtick and a willingness to forgo reality and dramatic interest.
On the plus side, Jerry Herman’s lush, catchy score receives honorable treatment from music director Joey Chancey and the cast. Though George Hamilton as cabaret owner Georges cannot, how you say, carry a tune in a bucket, Christopher Sieber is a legit Broadway star as drag show diva and life partner Albin, and the rest aren’t far behind him musically.
But where’s the story? Much should be at stake when straight son Jean-Michel (Michael Lowney) decides to marry the daughter (Allison Blair McDonnell) of reactionary politician Dindon (Bernard Burak Sheedy). You’d think the actors would commit to ramping up the drama in Harvey Fierstein’s libretto as much as they can, especially when a more tolerant era tends to lower the temperature.
Lowney’s acting is a bit stiff, but he alone seems to care about what’s going on. Hamilton is MIA, his toothy game-show-host blandness unperturbed by plot twists and his own shabby treatment of his lover. Sheedy could be the least menacing villain in musical history – is this 2012 politics at work, utterly dismissing him as a threat? – and McDowell lacks spunk.
Everyone else mugs and preens shamelessly. The gender-bending Cagelle chorines execute Lynne Page’s athletic choreography capably enough, but they overdo their ineptitude and pull focus as if trying to impress a new agent in the audience. Jeigh Madjus, portraying butler-maid Jacob as the unintelligible love child of Eartha Kitt and the Wild Man of Borneo, kills the laughs in a usually actor-proof role.
Old pro Sieber is no slouch in the thesping department, and his sensitive handling of “I Am What I Am” merits the cheers the anthem always gets no matter who’s playing Albin. But even he succumbs to phony bits and cheesy overkill, playing squarely to the house when he could and should be tightening the onstage springs.