Attention, Browns coach Pat Shurmur: We've found a beefy guy who stands six foot two and looks like he could be a sweet addition to your running game. You can find him wearing heels and a feather boa at Playhouse Square in La Cage Aux Folles. Just ask for Zaza.
Christopher Sieber, who minces daintily as the drag star Zaza, clearly has the hip feints that the backfield job requires. But whether he can learn the Browns' West Coast offense in time to help out this Sunday is anyone's guess. Meanwhile, Sieber is doing all he can to ably anchor this touring production that is unfortunately burdened by personnel problems of its own.
Director Terry Johnson has stripped away excess weight in this 2007 revival, created in England at the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre. So the long line of high-kicking queens, Les Cagelles, has been boiled down to an acrobatic and athletic six-pack of male chorines who bare plenty of skin and leap into groin-wrenching jump-splits without losing their Orbit-gum smiles.
As always, these dancers set the stage for a story that has entranced countless audiences on stage and in film for more than three decades. It's all built around the committed relationship between the drag performer Zaza (Albin in real life) and his devoted partner — in ventures both commercial and amorous — Georges.
Their comfy St. Tropez flat, situated over the tuck-and-tickle nightclub they own, is a happy home until Georges' grown son Jean-Michel arrives. The young man is the product of a heterosexual mishap Georges had years before, but now Sonny wants to get married — and that triggers all the hilarity to come.
At least, that's the plan. And Sieber does all he can with Albin/Zaza as he pouts, wails, and weeps his way through a clash with the visiting prospective in-laws. He gives the Act One anthem "I Am What I Am" a properly impassioned turn. And he wrings some real emotion out of "The Best of Times."
Trouble is, he plays opposite George Hamilton (yes, the Coppertoned one). To give credit where it's due, Hamilton at 72 has a porcelain-perfect smile and cuts a nice line in a tux. Now and then he can even deliver a Jack Benny-style deadpan punch line with throwaway ease.
But Hamilton is an actor with less depth than a bedbug's wading pool. In dialogue scenes, he is generally wooden. And in his songs — which are numerous — he often slides hesitantly up and down the scale in search of the correct note. As a result, genuine chemistry between Albin and Georges is only sporadically in evidence.
In the choice role of Jacob, the fierce and flaming maid for Georges and Albin, petite Jeigh Madjus is spectacularly unfunny. Indeed, one almost forgets how hysterical Jacob can be when acted by a performer who takes comedic chances and doesn't just rely on making cute faces.
Some of the best comic timing is displayed by Cathy Newman in the small role of Jean-Michel's future mother-in-law. Meantime, former Clevelander Gay Marshall handles her duties well as fellow club owner Jacqueline.
Once again, in what is evidently becoming a bad habit among Playhouse Square touring shows, the evening opens with a person (in this case, a drag queen) doing pre-show warm-up. Unless you're inordinately fond of cruise ship and theme park diversions, you're likely to find this exercise ("Are there any birthdays out there? Any anniversaries?") predictable and tedious — even with a naughty gay twist. (Gasp!)
Given all that, it's a tribute to the bulletproof nature of this material — with wonderful music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a clever book by Harvey Fierstein — that it still manages to entertain as well as it does.
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