‘La Cage’ Restricted by Poor Casting

Courtesy of Segerstrom Center of the Arts

It was the first, and presumably last time, I had ever seen a transvestite performing the opening act at the Segerstrom Center of the Arts in Costa Mesa. I am well aware, as well as enjoy, the theatre world’s liberal spectrum and array of characters; however, I’m sure that the 99 percent of people in the audience were staunch, Orange County conservatives who shifted uncomfortably in their seat when hearing a plethora of jokes about homosexuality.

But, I mean, what did they expect? They had purchased tickets for one of the most scandalous and sexualized shows to play this season at the Center: “La Cage aux Folles.”

Translating from French as “The Birdcage,” “La Cage” tells the story of a homosexual couple living in France who owns a nightclub of the same name: Georges, who acts as the venue’s emcee, and Albin, the fabulous Zaza who dazzles audiences with his singing. When their son Jean-Michel informs them that he plans on marrying a girl who is the daughter of a conservative politician, it challenges their relationship, as well as their perception of what is morally right and wrong.

The show is a comedy, which won the Tony Award in 2010 for Best Revival of a Musical, and was also made into a movie in 1996 with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane under its English translation.

Thus, with such a large amount of hoopla surrounding this show, I expected a magnificent evening, with cabaret spectacles, solid acting, fantastic singing and all around wit from a talented cast.

What happened instead was an energy-less show, with poor acting and less than talented performers. It being one of the few shows I was excited to see this season at the Center, I was rather disappointed as I left the theatre, feeling less than enthused.

One of the main problems with the story was the lack of acting. It is such a basic requirement for actors to actually act; however, a few members of this cast hadn’t of seemed to get that memo. George Hamilton, who played Georges, relied too much on his fame from previous years to even attempt to bring depth to his character. He also let his age get the better of him, and looked like he was on his last legs and was going to collapse any minute.

Of course, I could forgive a 72-year-old Hamilton before I could forgive a young 20-something for lack of acting. Michael Lowney, who played the couple’s son Jean-Michel, was the epitome of a bump on a log. He decided to follow all the “don’ts” of acting: stand staring at the person you’re speaking to without gesturing to the audience, speaking really loudly and slowly in a monotone voice and, the big one, not changing your facial expression. I felt like I had walked into an overpriced beginner’s acting lesson rather than a National Tour group. The scenes between Hamilton and Lowney were less than bearable, and I considered at times taking a quick nap to the lullaby of his monotone.

The only thing that stopped me was the true star of the show: Christopher Sieber, who played the eccentric, flamboyant and all around fabulous Albin. I had previously seen “The Birdcage” movie, and loved Nathan Lane’s adaptation of the role, but I was extremely surprised at the ease and talent that Sieber brought to the part.

He was able to play Albin without overdoing the flamboyant aspect, as well as add humanistic qualities that were a refreshing change compared to the other dry characters. Plus, his singing was spot on, a combination of a nasal theatre tone and fierce passion that Broadway sinks its teeth into. Albin made the show a memorable experience for me, as well as woke me up from my lull as I watched him take ownership of the scenes.

The main reason I was excited for “La Cage” was the plotline from “The Birdcage,” and, although I usually side with theatre over the movie adaptation, I must say I was a fan more of the film. It may be because I saw it first, or because I enjoyed the acting more, but regardless, the show’s storyline was not as humorous as I expected, and was further ruined by the poor leading male casting choices.

I would like to close by stating that the quality of shows I have seen at Segerstrom Center of the Arts has been steadily declining over the past few years: if a show has a strong cast, the plot is often weak, and if the storyline is supposed to be comedic and energized, the characters lack that enthusiasm to keep the show moving.

If only Segerstrom could book a National Tour that had both qualities, I would feel more like I was watching a Broadway or West End performance, rather than some local high school show.

Rating: 3 out of 5