La Cage Aux Folles isn’t the best show I’ve ever seen, but it does have one of the best performances I’ve seen in a while. The show itself isn’t much to speak of; it’s campy and fun, with an entertaining script and couple of songs that stick with you, but a score that is mostly forgettable. The production is clever, making the large Gammage Auditorium feel like a cabaret.
Although the cast is uneven, Christopher Sieber’s performance is worth the price of admission.* Sieber, as the flamboyant and fabulous Albin, brings the most humanity to the stage, in a role that could easily become a caricature (see Birdcage). He is seamlessly subtle and vulnerable, yet commanding and powerful. His delivery of the Act 1 closer “I Am What I Am” is heartbreaking and empowering all at once, and handled with a raw honesty usually eaten alive by an auditorium of this size. Sieber’s booming voice seemed to fill Gammage unaided by his microphone as he brought the house down.
I also want to mention Childsplay’s production of The Color of Stars has one more weekend of performances at the Tempe Center for the Arts. I can’t recommend it enough; a must-see, with or without kids. Click here to read a review and click here for tickets and information.
When Green Day’s American Idiot was released in 2004, I listened to it non-stop. As soon as it ended, I would start over from the beginning and listen again. It became a sort of addiction; the passion in the music and the completeness of the album just hooked me. I’ve also been a lifelong fan of musical theatre, so when I heard that American Idiot was being adapted for the stage, my curiosity was definitely piqued. I knew the result would either be brilliant… or a complete disaster. I finally had the opportunity to see it last night at Gammage Auditorium in Tempe. It was brilliant.
The production was directed by Michael Mayer, who won a Tony for his direction of another favorite show of mine, Spring Awakening. He captures the raw emotion and energy of Green Day’s work, and, like with Spring Awakening, brings innovative staging and storytelling. The cast brings it as well, led by Van Hughes who is incredible in the role of Johnny. After the curtain call, the entire cast comes back to the stage with guitars (although I caught at least one of them faking it) for a new arrangement of Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). That alone is worth the price of admission.
This is a show you could see many times and notice something new every time. American Idiot is not to be missed.
One last quick note. For as long as I can remember seeing shows at Gammage, the sound has been pretty awful. This was not the case last night. The balance was good, and you could hear the singers over the band really well. I spoke with a representative from Gammage who told me they made some changes recently, relocating and replacing some equipment. Whatever they did, seems to have worked, which is great news for audiences!
(Disclaimer: Tickets to the show for myself and my wife were complimentary in exchange for my participation in the Gammage Goers program. This in no way influenced my response.)
One of the questions I asked the panel when I interviewed to be a Gammage Goer was, “What happens if I don’t like a show?” (hoping the question wouldn’t immediately eliminate me). They wisely responded that having an honest, negative review only adds credibility to the program. So, it’s a good thing they feel that way, because I didn’t love this cast of West Side Story. As much as I wanted to like Uof A grad Kyle Harris as Tony, I just didn’t. I had seen him in Hair a couple of years ago, and thought he was great. To me, his voice doesn’t fit this role and his broad portrayal was distracting. The rest of the cast was good, but nobody blew me away.
I did, however, in my immediate post-show video interview, want to focus on some of the positive as well. So, as you’ll hear in my interview, I believe that seeing a production of West Side Story is important context for understanding the groundwork that was laid for the Broadway musical to evolve. Anymore, it seem like every show likes to tout that it “Redefines musical theatre.” West Side Story made that possible. Arthur Laurents, author of the musical’s book, said, “I thought maybe it would run for three months. I didn’t care. It was so not what a musical should be.”
Here’s my immediate reaction:
I should point out that my opinion of the cast was not shared by The Arizona Republic or my fellow Gammage Goers. For tickets and information, click here.
(Disclaimer: Tickets to the show for myself and my wife were complimentary in exchange for my participation in the Gammage Goers program. As I mentioned, they in no way influenced my response.)