Last night I went to see “La Cage aux Folles” at the Royal Alexandra Theatre here in Toronto: arguably one of our city’s most important historical spaces.
I love the experience of being in this theatre as much as I love the shows when they begin. You wind the red-carpeted stairs of the beguiling, century-old place and are greeted by headshots of all of the glittering and dazzling stars who have played there throughout the years.
It is, in this sense, the perfect vaudevillian and cabaret-like joint in which to set ‘La Cage’: a raunchy, raucous and surprisingly timely piece about untraditional family, owning your own person, your own space, and love in its myriad of forms.
Georges ( played here by George Hamilton ) owns a club called “ La Cage aux Folles” in St. Tropez where glittered and spangled transvestites (La Cagelles) perform nightly. Georges’ life-partner and likewise his head-liner, Albin (the awesome Christopher Sieber), is the more effeminate of the two and his glitzy lifestyle and stage presence and pizzazz of the show.
A heterosexual union resulted in Georges’ son, Jean-Michel, whose mother, showgirl Sybil, has been out of the picture for years. Thus, Georges and Albin have raised Jean-Michel lovingly (if unconventionally) and have provided him with everything he has ever wanted--- until now. Jean-Michel has become engaged to a charming girl named Anne whose father is the head of the Morality, Family and Tradition Party (or some such): an ultra-conservative, right-wing who believes that St. Tropez should be rid of all of the transvestite houses ( La Cage notwithstanding). Jean-Michel begs his father to hide Albin for a night, repress his lifestyle to impress his fiancé, and pretend for 24 hours to be a straight man in love with his wife of 20 some years.
Georges, out of love for his son, agrees. Albin, upon learning that he must be out of the picture despite the time and effort and heart he has invested in his adopted son’s raising, is rightfully crushed.
The play, then, switches between glitz and humour and laugh-out-loud antics to downright heart-wrenching. The price of admission is worth it for Sieber singing the show’s show-stopping number “I Am What I Am” : which is an anthem of sorts for individuality and self- love. Here, also, for self-preservation. Here, a member of a family is being forced on the outskirts to uphold societal tradition. Here, years of love and devotion are being traded for what is “seen” as appropriate behavior in a nuclear unit. You can take this part of the show’s experience out of context--- gay, straight, regardless of race or preference, and imagine those moments when you, too, have felt that you must stand up for your originality, your uniqueness, your viewpoint, your world.
I find this piece remarkably moving and Christopher Sieber brought the house down with it.
The second act becomes a bit of a farce with an almost Neil Simon realization of vibrant people with complicated circumstances in a forced and cajoled environment. The musical numbers are slightly more rare and the dancing antics of the Cagelles are fenced while the deeper emotional center of the story is explored. Jean-Michel realizes his mistake in trading deep and real love for superfluous superficiality and all’s well that ends well.
Christopher Sieber, man! Christopher Sieber! He is a multiple Tony-award nominee (Spamalot, Shrek, etc.,) and he is a tour-de-force.
Here's the Mooney on Theatre review: it's better than mine