Also with: Janet Bushor, Keith Cromwell, Shawn Ku, Troy Lambert, David E. Liddell, Jay Poindexter, Michael Quinn, Conny Sasfai, Scott Spahr, Kyle Whyte, Dale Hensley, Jim Madden, Judith Thiergaard, Michelle Bruckner, Andrew Sakaguchi.
Experience shows, as Walter Charles is proving in this new national touring production of “La Cage aux folles.” Not, as might be expected, as “transvestite homosexual” Albin, the role he took over on Broadway nearly 10 years ago and played in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but as “plain homosexual” Georges. It is he, rather than the Albin of Lee Roy Reams, Broadway’s original young and healthy Billy Lawlor in “42nd Street,” who is the show’s focal point and driving force.
At its Boston opening, dogged by scene-change squeaks and bloopers, the knowledge and integrity backing Charles’ performance was doubly welcome, even if the actor does look a mite older than the character need be. His presence helped at least some of the musical’s charm and showbiz sentiment to remain intact. Nevertheless, the production is basically tacky.
Its sets, vague Ken Holamon approximations of David Mitchell’s gleaming Broadway originals, were originally designed and built (poorly) for California’s San Jose Civic Light Opera. It would help if the backstage crew knew which drop was meant for which scene — and had an oil can. Theoni V. Aldredge’s marvelously glitzy original costumes suffer from what may be simple wear and tear as well as Tom Augustine’s additional costume design. The clothes the chorus boys wear in the butch “Masculinity” dance number, for instance, look as though they’re the cast’s own knockabout clothes.
Chet Walker’s direction and choreography broaden and blunt virtually everything, Charles’ perf always excepted. Clearly Walker hasn’t supported Reams sufficiently: While the actor dives into his cross-dressing role with considerable energy, he doesn’t convey a clear-cut characterization. Same problem bedevils too many of the supporting perfs, including that of Robert L. Daye Jr., who misses point after point as the high-flying butler/maid Jacob.
As Georges’ heterosexual son, Robert Lambert gives a perfectly acceptable performance, but he’s not good-looking enough to be the biological son of what we’re assured were two great physical beauties.
Walker’s choreography, with apologies to the Broadway original’s Scott Salmon , might be better than it appears since it’s not cleanly enough danced by the gender-bending chorines. Music director James May gives the sweetly melodic score gutsy liveliness, though he pushes too hard at times.
At least some of the tackiness and lack of polish this revival exhibits could still be remedied. At a $ 60 top, they need to be.