The beauty of "La Cage aux Folles" has always been the fact that under the feathers and sequins, this was a musical that had a lot of heart: In the love of Georges for flamboyant Albin, in the love of Albin for the boy he helped raise, Jean-Michel.
But in the touring production of the Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein show, that heart is all but steamrolled by overly cartoonish characterizations and a staging that emphasizes larger-than-life antics over the smaller moments that define a family.
And the notoriously poor sound quality in the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre hit a new low at Tuesday's opening night, leaving many of leading man George Hamilton's lines inaudible and the lyrics to the title song, among others, unintelligible.
Not all is lost, though.
As Albin, Christopher Sieber singlehandedly provides the only genuine emotion of the evening — thankfully, it's a mighty powerful emotion and a dynamic performance that goes from ridiculously silly to heartbreakingly poignant in a heartbeat.
His take on Albin's signature song, "I Am What I Am," hits all the right beats — shocked, angry, defiant and proud.
"I Am What I Am" is at the crux of "La Cage aux Folles," which tells a tale of love and family, but mostly of accepting people for who they are. Georges owns a drag club in Saint-Tropez. Albin is his longtime partner, as well as his star performer.
Their unconventional household is thrown into chaos when Georges' son (courtesy of a long-ago heterosexual fling) announces his engagement to the daughter of a conservative politician. Movie buffs may be familiar with the film version of the story, "The Birdcage."
In this revival of the Tony-winning show, based on a 2007 London production that later ran on Broadway, director Terry Johnson seemingly doesn't have confidence in the material to sell itself. No time for a quiet moment: The show just sails from one broadly comic bit to the next.
Thanks to some jaw-dropping moves, the troupe of dancers in drag acquit themselves better than the supporting cast, which is uniformly bland.
As for Hamilton, he doesn't do much with Georges but emanate low-key charm — all white teeth and perfect tan, lacking in musicality and presence.
Maybe the truth is Johnson didn't have faith in Middle America, the bread and butter of touring shows, to accept gay people as anything less than clowns. This production has a sheen of commercialism on it, from casting Hamilton to emphasizing easy jokes rather than heartfelt emotion.
Still, you can't completely keep a good show down and every once in a while, a touching moment sneaks in. Sieber even pulls one out of farce: After Georges' head has been stuck up Albin's dress (ha,ha), Albin gently smoothes his partner's hair and gives him a crooked smile.
Moments like that, which illustration genuine love and human connection, are worth far more than any amount of spangles.
'La Cage aux Folles'
What: Broadway Across America touring show, presented by Florida Theatrical Association
When: 8 p.m. today-Friday, June 8; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, June 9; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, June 10
Where: Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 W. Livingston St., Orlando