Review: A propulsive 'La Cage' at the Hippodrome

Review: A propulsive 'La Cage' at the Hippodrome
George Hamilton stars in the national tour of "La Cage aux Folles" at the Hippodrome. (Paul Kolnik, Handout photo)

There's a restaurant scene partway through Act 2 of "La Cage aux Folles" that spotlights Christopher Sieber, playing Albin, the reigning drag queen of Saint-Tropez in the propulsive and entertaining production at the Hippodrome this week.

Albin, decked out like an overstuffed Margaret Thatcher and still hurt by perceived slights from the most important people in his life, is called upon to sing a little something. Sieber's whole body subtly softens and seems to glow as he sings in gentle, conversational tones: "Hold this moment fast, and live and love as hard as you know; make this moment last, because the best of times is now."

No great shakes as a lyric or a tune, but Sieber's nuanced singing sells it so affectingly that you'd swear it was the most divinely inspired song in the Broadway canon, a bittersweet anthem as much for those in love as for those who feel threatened. In just a few measures of that song, Sieber reveals the tenderness that truly defines Albin and anchors the whole musical.

Yes, "La Cage," the 1983 musical by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein, is still a comedy, not some deep psychological work. But if played too straight, so to speak, all you get is a glitter-and-be-gay farce. The beauty of this touring production, neatly directed by Terry Johnson and based on a revival that originated in London in 2007, is that it doesn't slight the heart of the matter.

And Sieber's towering performance, with its blend of multilayered acting, spot-on comic timing and inspired vocalism, makes you believe in the love story of Albin and longtime partner Georges as they both get caught up in the machinations of an amusing, if somewhat tired, plot.

Sieber is partnered here by veteran actor and perennial celebrity George Hamilton. He puts his familiar gleaming smile to good use as Georges, the owner of the drag club and, thanks to a momentary diversion, father of a child he raises with Albin.

Hamilton is a little too soft-spoken and reserved at times, and he may miss or mess a few lines along the way, but you can't help but root for him. More often than not, he delivers. His singing is quite passable, too.

The rest of the cast does sturdy, dynamic work. Billy Harrigan Tighe brings a particularly warm and supple voice to the role of Georges' son Jean-Michel, whose plan to marry the daughter of an arch-conservative politician sets "La Cage" spinning. Jeigh Madjus is quite the dynamo as the "butler" Jacob. Gay Marshall adds a lot of bounce to the proceedings as restaurant owner Jacqueline.

The corps of drag queens — thankfully, no women are worked into the ranks the way they were back when "La Cage" was new — is at once nimble, flighty and tough. When they don their bird outfits (Matthew Wright designed the vibrant costumes), they look like crazed runaways from a "Swan Lake" company.

Tim Shortall's scenic design has lots of color and detail, especially when Georges and Albin's flat gets a makeover, from emotional to devotional, to impress Jean-Michel's would-be in-laws.

The creaky bits of the plot and the score still creak. The scene where Georges tries to teach Albin "manly" motions still rankles. The padded production numbers still wear out their welcome, despite the energy that propels them here.

But "La Cage" remains a good old-fashioned musical with good old-fashioned values, and a lot of it comes off as surprisingly fresh in this well-oiled revival (a real orchestra, rather than a few guys and synthesizers, would add even more).

There are strong messages in the show — some folks would call this an agenda, I suppose — about what it means to be human and true to yourself; about how the definition of family can be awfully complicated, but still mean a family.

In the end, though, "La Cage" is as eager to entertain as Albin, when he dons makeup, gown and wig. Entertain it does. But, to steal a line from Georges, it also lets you leave the theater with more than a folded program and a ticket stub.

If you go

"La Cage aux Folles" runs through Sunday at the Hippodrome, 12 N. Eutaw St. Tickets are $59.25 to $91.20. Call 410-547-7328, or go to