La Cage Aux Folles
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman; Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Terry Johnson
Broadway, Musical Revival
Longacre Theater, 220 West 48th Street
The Cagelles of La Cage Aux Folles. Photo by Joan Marcus.
UPDATE (by Joseph Samuel Wright, 3/31/11)
On February 15th, Harvey Fierstein (who wrote the book for the musical) joined the cast of La Cage aux Folles replacing Douglas Hodge in the role of Albin. Christopher Sieber shortly followed opposite Fierstein as his lover Georges. It’s ironic that these two Broadway bigwigs were brought in only after La Cage producers reportedly had trouble replacing the two leads, because Fierstein and Sieber fit the show and each other as if it were written for them (...by one of them).
Aside from very minor script alterations, what's new to this production is the ease and openness that Fierstein and Sieber bring. While the show is high camp, these two veteran gay actors play the roles without consciousness. Whether outrageous antics or an intimate tet-a-tet, each moment is easy. The emotions and characters are never forced, instead this duo flips it and lets the characters be unconscious while the highjinks are self-aware and metatheatrical. Somehow Sieber and Fierstein bring both a genuineness to the narrative and an added vaudevillian flare to the comedy of La Cage.
And while some worried that Fierstein wasn’t up to the vocal challenge of the role, specifically the anthem “I Am What I Am,” the power of Fierstein’s performance and his awareness of and dexterity with his vocal instrument makes his rendition of Albin one to be reckoned with. While Fierstein is a huge star, this is no stunt casting. Fierstein has honed his craft and brings out the full comedic and evocative artillery of his decades of performing, dragging, and living.
So while no one would have predicted it, this last minute pairing has made for an ideal headline team for the revamped, still camped, feathered and fearless revival of La Cage aux Folles. The highlight of the show for me, was an emotional coup that happened before my ticket was even torn. On the way into the Longacre, I noticed a timid, transgender teen in her sweet natural hair wig. Her mom had brought her to the show. And I was suddenly very glad for Broadway that there is a playing now that this hopeful girl can be excited to see. La Cage is not just for tourists; it’s also for those who have just now found themselves, and can see themselves reflected back from the stage. Los kudos for La Cage.
BOTTOM LINE: As Albin and Georges would say, “It’s rather gawdy, but it’s also rather grand.”
It would be impossible not to enjoy yourself at the revival of La Cage aux Folles, now playing on Broadway after a run at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory. I’m not normally one to make broad, all-encompassing statements like that, but seriously, I dare you to have a bad time. Singing, dancing, love stories, biceps, and boas — prove me wrong.
La Cage is charming from the get-go, with a story that is ultimately about love and loyalty. It’s also a celebration of life and individuality in all their sparkly goodness. Perhaps the most important relationship in the room is the one between the audience and the performers in a consistent connection throughout this radiant production. There is a shared joy.
Kelsey Grammer stars in this gayest of draggy musicals as Georges, the emcee and owner of a drag club in the south of France aptly called La Cage aux Folles. Georges and his partner Albin (Douglas Hodge, in a standout performance) have run the club for years, with Albin as the headlining performer, Zaza. The men have a son, Jean-Michel (AJ Shivley), who is straight, much to their chagrin, and he announces that he’s proposed to his girlfriend, Anne (Elena Shaddow). Anne’s family is uberconservative, and as a dinner will be held for the families to meet one another, Jean-Michel requests that his parents play it straight themselves.
If this plot sounds familiar, it might be because you’ve seen Mike Nichols’s 1996 movie The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. It’s great in its own right and is based on La Cage, although it’s not a musical.
The show itself, by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein (based on a play by Jean Poiret), does a lot of things right. It establishes two incredibly endearing characters whose lifestyle (though ostentatiously gay in every way) is also weirdly relatable and seemingly normal in the context of their present situation: their only child is getting married and they are very different form their future in-laws.
The conflict provides ample opportunity for jokes and one-liners, and I can’t even count the number of sight gags the production utilizes; the humor is lowbrow, but it’s totally sincere. Plotwise, La Cage is mostly set-up. The in-laws don’t even meet one another until halfway through the second act. And then the denouement wraps up the drama in a neat little package. But as far as musical theatre stories go, La Cage certainly has the ability to keep its audience engaged in the action; it’s hardly full of surprises, but the characters make you care about what’s happening.
This production is brilliantly conceived, using a small Broadway theater to create a tinier package altogether. That’s not to say the show isn’t big — it’s definitely as flashy and big budget as you’d expect, but it's conceptually scaled down. This makes for a more intimate experience. The theater offers cabaret table seating in the front row (for a mere $250 a pop), and there is a definite intention to bring the audience into the cruise-ship chic world of La Cage.
The script itself encourages that convention, with Georges as the emcee and the audience essentially functioning as the audience at the club. And the chorus of dancers at La Cage aux Folles, called the Cagelles, numbers only six. In previous incarnations, like the 2004 Broadway revival, there were several more Cagelles, including some men in drag along with female dancers, but in this production they’re all men in drag. Sure, the illusion that they’re women is present, but there’s never any question as to their gender sans makeup and costumes. All of these conceits together add to the intimacy of the evening. The audience is able to truly invest as the drama unfolds, and the appeal of George and Albin is all the more palpable.
The six Cagelles deserve a mention, as they are all tremendous dancers (with tremendous muscles). They are the epitome of classy drag: playful, talented performers who tease while looking smoking hot in their tiny outfits. Gay or straight, you find yourself drawn into their act. If you enjoy the art of drag (i.e. you love RuPaul’s Drag Race), you will be absolutely taken with The Cagelles.
Dougles Hodge revives his performance from the London production. He won several accolades overseas, and it’s clear this part was meant for him. He owns it, in almost a Mama Rose (from Gypsy) sort of way, embodying a strong but wounded woman who just wants to do right. Grammer, as his counterpart, is equally qualified and has a great singing voice. He recalls a Frasier Crane sensibility and it fits perfectly, although he has a nicer coif and is a little less neurotic than the TV character that made him famous.
As far as Broadway experiences go, La Cage offers many attributes that make audiences swoon. It is theatrical, approachable, positive, and bawdy enough to entertain without going too far to turn certain audience members off. Sure, there are innuendos, and the drag is revealing, but all in all the show remains PG-13. And the ultimate message of love and family is about as G-rated as you can get. It is endearingly accessible and from the audience response, it’s clear that it’s well received on several levels. It wasn’t necessarily time for another revival of this show since it was a mere six years ago that it played on Broadway, but this version stands apart and is welcomed nonetheless. I’d recommend it for anyone looking for a musical theatre experience — it’s worth the price with its charm, and its long run time (2 hours, 40 minutes) lets you sink your teeth into a sparkly, glitzy, magical time.
(La Cage Aux Folles plays at the Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street. Performances are Tuesdays at 8pm, Wednesdays at 2:30pm and 8pm, Thursdays at 8pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2:30pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $36.50 - $140 and can be purchased at telecharge.com. Sit at a cabaret table in the front row for $251.50. Same-day student rush tickets are available at the box office for $36.50 (2 per ID). For more show information visit lacage.com.)