It’s rather remarkable that “La Cage aux Folles,” a musical about the unconventional relationship at its core, feels as dully conventional as can be. The love story of two men was sensational for its subject matter in 1983 when it opened on Broadway, but that production was more a breezy backstage farce than a modern morality tale.
The current uneven production at the Music Circus feels like a curious cultural artifact with two appealing lead performances adrift in a sea of caricatures, weighed down by leaden plot devices.
The musical’s book was adapted by Harvey Fierstein with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman from the 1973 French play by Jean Poiret. In 1978 there was a French-Italian film adaptation of the play written by Jean Poiret. The original 1983 Broadway production of the musical received nine nominations for Tony awards, winning six, including best musical, best score and best book. In 1996, the American remake of the film retitled “The Birdcage,” set in South Beach, Miami, was directed by Mike Nichols and starring Nathan Lane and the late Robin Williams.
Much to the audience’s benefit, charismatic stars Brent Barrett as Georges and Alan Mingo Jr. as Albin keep their heads above water in director Tony Spinosa’s indifferent production. Barrett (seen last year here as Joe in “Sugar”) has an naturally elegant quality that finely suits his role as owner of the sophisticated nightclub of the play’s title. Mingo gives Albin a flighty, vulnerable persona that effortlessly connects with Barrett’s confident Georges. Both Barrett and Mingo are arresting vocalists, and the two have affecting duets on “With You on My Arm” and “Song on the Sand,” though each song edges toward maudlin excess.
Set in St. Tropez, France, in the early 1970s, most of the action takes either in the nightclub or in the apartment above it, which Georges and Albin have shared for over 20 years. Georges works as master of ceremonies for the club’s “famous” floor show, which stars Albin performing under the stage name “Zaza.”
The show’s drag chorus line, Les Cagelles, are introduced in the leitmotif tune “We Are What We Are.” Their excellent costumes are designed by Mark Koss with hair, wigs, and make up by Christine Conklin. Their audience-pleasing set piece with the title number was choreographed by Dana Solimando.
Georges and Albin are essentially husband and wife, assisted by their cheeky maid/butler, Jacob (an enjoyable Reggie De Leon). The harmony gets disrupted by the appearance of Georges’ son, Jean-Michel (Michael Lowney). Georges and Albin have raised the boy – the result of a drunken one-night love liaison – who considers them his true parents because of a serially absent mother. Jean-Michel announces he has become engaged to Anne (Julie Kavanagh), the daughter of an aggressively conservative local politician who heads the Tradition, Family and Morality Party. Georges and Albin’s relationship must be hidden from the prospective in-laws and the absent mother is sent for to create the fictional picture of traditional happy family.
While the set-up does not go quite as Jean-Michel hoped, the lumpy plot pushes everything together for an improbably comforting resolution. For something so potentially fun and lively, the play mostly sits as middle of the road, like the dull matronly outfit Albin wears through much of the second act in which only Barrett and Mingo are particularly memorable.
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.