Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jerry's Queens

(Christopher Sieber and George Hamilton in the touring production of "La Cage aux Folles.")

It takes a 24-carat curmudgeon to give the gate to one of Jerry Herman's Broadway extravaganzas. The shows work on the same principle as soulful pooches: they melt all resistance, with their puppyish bonhomie, and then they proceed to lick you into total submission with their melodic impishness.

If "Hello, Dolly!" was his gentle, elegant Golden Retriever strutting on a staircase, then "Mame" was his dizzying pink poodle of a charmer and "La Cage aux Folles" is his Saint Bernard - clumsy and loving, dispensing gay family values with the same tender care as "Peter Pan's" Katie Nana.

For last year's Broadway revival, director Terry Johnson replaced the jeweled lavishness of Arthur Laurents' original production with a more earthy rhinestone sparkle, making it endearingly tacky and the gay element more central with a fluorescent honesty. The touring version, now at PlayhouseSquare, retains much of this joyful approach and, with the nuanced diva vulnerability and outrageousness of Christopher Sieber's Albin, preserves the whimsical professionalism you got for twice the price in New York.

Unfortunately, there is some mongrel blood in the performance of George Hamilton as Georges, Albin's comparatively "straight" husband. Hamilton brings to mind the days when John Kenley would requisition long-in-the-tooth celebrities and give them a script and a week to master it. Admittedly well past 70, Hamilton is still dashing and looks born to his ascot. However, this elegance is rendered in a fashion much closer to a Madame Tussaud's waxwork than an aging roue in St. Tropez.

Adding the wrong kind of absurdity to this production is a black head microphone perched on Hamilton's silver mane doing a remarkable impression of the asp that bit Cleopatra.

Yet it takes more than a poisonous snake to assassinate such a queenly piece of musical theater.

"La Cage aux Folles" runs at PlayhouseSquare through Sunday, Nov. 20. For tickets, call 216-241-6000.

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