Sunday, April 25, 2010

La Cage aux Folles

Director Terry Johnson’s staging of my beloved La Cage aux Folles didn’t clicked with me in this latest Broadway revival. Maybe it’s because my memories of the last revival, in 2004, are still so strong and loving. I saw that production twice and the original once.

My major problem was that the relationships weren’t convincing. Relationships are the heart of this show -- the love between two men who have raised a child together, and the relationship of that grown young man to his parents and to the woman he wants to marry.

Broadway producers make a bargain with the devil when they cast a TV or movie star with the hope that she or he will help fill the house. In this case it’s Kelsey Grammer (left in photo) in the costarring role of Georges, the owner and master of ceremonies at a St. Tropez drag club. I never for one minute felt he loved Albin (Douglas Hodge, right), the star of his show and his partner for 20 years.

What’s more, he doesn’t belong in a musical. He does OK with a mid-range belt, but talks his way through the higher notes and is often off-key. This is especially disappointing in the tender love song “Song on the Sand” that he sings to Albin. I’ve always loved this scene but here it’s painful, both in terms of the singing and the lack of connection between the two.

Unfortunately, the pain is likely to get even worse because after Grammer has ruined the role of Georges for six months he’s going to switch to playing Albin. That should be an even greater disaster.

I felt that same lack on involvement from Hodge, a classically trained British actor best known in England as a collaborator with Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter. Albin has helped raise Jean-Michel (A.J. Shively), Georges’ son from a one-night stand, his only heterosexual encounter engaged in merely to see what it was like to be with a woman. Albin considers himself Jean-Michel’s mother, yet I didn’t feel one shred of maternal sensibility from him.

I also didn’t detect any of the insecurity Albin should grapple with, leading to his conquering Act One closer, “I Am What I Am.” And I am mystified as to why he often spoke with a cockney accent. They’re all supposed to be French, but accents are up for grabs -- Jacob (Robin De Jesus), the maid, sounds as if he’s channeling Rosie Perez.

The most unconvincing is Shively, who seems to have no passion for anything, his parents or his intended, Anne (Elena Shaddow). Actually this is understandable since they are not people who would inspire much passion. Anne is sweet, but dull, so they should be a good match.

With these lackluster performances, Jerry Herman’s songs that I love so much -- the ones I’ve mentioned, as well as “With Anne on My Arm,” “Look Over There” and “The Best of Times” -- have little emotional impact, so the originals from my cast album kept crowding them out in my mind. (Harvey Fierstein wrote the musical’s book based on the play by Jean Poiret, which also inspired the 1978 French film and the American version, “The Birdcage,” in 1996.)

“The Best of Times” was actually Broadway Blessing’s first sing-along song. I had asked our then music director Darryl Curry if the Choir could sing it and he suggested we have the audience join in. That was the start of what is now our popular closing feature in each year’s Blessing.

The performers who have the most spirit are "the notorious and dangerous Cagelles,” the transvestite chorus boys who perform the dance numbers. Nick Adams, Nicholas Cunningham, Sean Patrick Doyle, Yurel Echezarreta, Terry Lavell and Logan Keslar playfully execute Lynne Page’s unimaginative choreography, which relies heavily on cartwheels. Those guys can really move in high heels and Matthew Wright’s skimpy, gaudy/glittery costumes, camping it up to give the show what little life it has.

I also enjoyed Mme. Dindon (Veanne Cox) as the repressed wife of the ultraconservative traditional values political candidate (Fred Applegate) who wants to shut down establishments like Georges’. The Dindons are Anne’s parents and their visit to meet the family of Anne’s intended is the basis for the farce that is the main action of the play. That’s the comic side; the heart of the play is the fact that love doesn’t have to be traditional to be real and the theme of acceptance, both of others and of self -- “I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses.”

This revival of La Cage is the latest transfer from London’s Menier Chocolate Factory, which recently gave us revivals of Sunday in the Park with George and A Little Night Music. Hodge played Albin in there as well, winning the 2009 Olivier Awards Best Actor in a Musical, while the show won for Best Musical Revival. That production transferred to the West End's Playhouse Theatre, where it is still running. I guess the difference in that effort, which is popularly and critically thriving, and the Broadway version is that it doesn’t have Kelsey Grammer!

The original Broadway production ran for 1,761 performances and won six Tony Awards in 1984, including Best Musical, Best Score (Herman) and Best Book (Fierstein). The 2004 revival won Tonys for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Choreography.

Tickets for the current show are available by calling at (212) 239-6200, by visiting or at the Longacre Theatre box office, 220 W. 48th St. Visit for more information and a video introduction from Grammer and the Cagelles.

No comments: