Director Terry Johnson has concocted a production of La Cage aux Folles that has more to do with grimy gay bar genius than Vegas glitter, and it’s the most authentic, fun and touching version of this drag-centric story I’ve ever even heard of. Now the show has been recast with Harvey Fierstein, the musical’s book writer, as drag performer Albin, and Christopher Sieber as Georges the impresario of the trashy but charming drag club in St. Tropez on the French Riviera where Albin is the star. With them in it, this La Cage is even more completely what Johnson set out to create – in spades, and for real.
If you don’t know the story by now, George and Albin lead a happy existence until their son announces his engagement to the daughter of a conservative right-wing politician — who’s coming to dinner. This production’s original Albin, Douglas Hodge, was quite believably a trashy drag diva, singing this line as Piaf, this line as Dietrich.
Fierstein goes even further with a performance that also evokes the high-art drag of Charles Ludlam, as well as the highly polished camp of Charles Pierce. I don’t think there has ever been an Albin, in any version of this story, that has paid as much loving tribute to drag’s rich, complex history – or has stolen from it so gleefully and mercilessly. Harvey is also the most deliciously expressive and happy Albin ever, by a long shot.
But it’s the combination of Fierstein with Chris Sieber that makes this edition of La Cage truly magic, not to be missed. Sieber is the first George that has filled the line “plain old homosexual” with deep, if rueful, sincerity, and therein lies the key to the genius of his performance and his chemistry with Harvey. I have never felt the reality of their love as I do here, which makes those moments where George has to fight with Albin all the more heartstopping. Sieber’s George loves Albin so much that the audience is reduced to moved silence whenever Sieber expresses that love.
This is a nearly perfect La Cage, itself nearly a perfect musical. Especially since the show’s run ends on May 1, you absolutely cannot miss Fierstein and Sieber, I simply won’t allow it!