Even when it opened on Broadway nearly 30 years ago, La Cage aux Folles wasn’t really groundbreaking. Sure, it featured gay men, many in full drag, shown in a romantic setting, but no show with a Jerry Herman score could ever be called “edgy.” Herman is the master of the traditional book-musical format: Scene, set-up, joke, song (in equal parts ballads, anthems and production numbers); repeat. In fact, repeat a lot — the songs are not musically diverse and the same musical phrases come back over and over.
Of course, one shouldn’t undervalue the presence of the gays at the center of this story, even if the story feels slightly dated: Longtime gay couple Georges (George Hamilton), owner of La Cage, the most famous drag club in St. Tropez — and Albin (Christopher Sieber), his star performer, have a son who wants to marry a girl. Only her parents are about on the same color of the political spectrum as Rick Santorum, and unlikely to put up with queer in-laws. So Albin must disappear.
Of course, this is based on a French farce, so mistaken identity, cross-dressing, uncomfortable coincidences, etc., are par for the course. But director Terry Johnson fails to mine much farcical pacing from what should be a tight fit. The decision not to cast any women among the small cast of Les Cagelles dancers (a common gimmick since the beginning) is a bad one.
Most of the comic responsibility lands on Sieber’s shoulders, and he’s up to the task. Blowsy in his petticoats and bustiers, Sieber delivers the good as a fussy drag queen both to tickle and to touch, as he does powerfully on the Act 1 anthem “I Am What I Am.” That song, trite as it has become, still delivers chills from a largely gay audience on opening night. That’s the real legacy of La Cage: Not its plot or its music or its fabulousness, but it’s message of self-acceptance.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Music Hall at Fair Park, 901 First Ave., Through April 22. DallasSummerMusicals.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 13, 2012.