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La Cage Aux Folles
La Cage Aux Folles Gets a Second Georges and Albin
I've seen three different versions of LaCage Aux Folles and love it enough to have enjoyed even the least perfect of the three (the 2004 revival). But this downsized version which began in London's Donmar Warehouse is my favorite. Obviously I'm not alone in my enthusiasm for this production since a second cast has now come aboard.
Harvey Fierstein and Christopher Sieber
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The box office name when La Cage opened at the Longacre last April was Kelsey Grammer, but the one who truly owned the show was Douglas Hodge. Though Grammer was a quite winning Georges and sang surprisingly well, Hodge, a Shakespeare trained British actor, was the big Wow!
Now that the original Albin and George have moved on, the box office magnet is Harvey Fierstein. And why not? After all, he penned the La Cage book and endeared himself to Broadway musical audiences as Edna Turnblatt in Hairspray and Teyve in Fiddler on the Roof — each time as a replacement that proved to be a smart choice.
Fierstein is a performer you appreciate for his moxie in taking on singing roles with his frog-like vocals. He has a teddy bear lovability and knows how to compensate for his vocal shortcoming with emotionally nuanced acting, terrific timing and a way of camping things up without going too far overboard. Given his girth, just watching him change from an unflattering flannel robe to his glittery Queen Zaza outfit is a show in itself. So yes, though he doesn't fit the part physically or vocally, Fierstein brings his own ooh-la-la to La Cage, and the audience laps it up.
But as Fierstein manages to be just right in a part that's something of a stretch, given his size and growly voice, so Christopher Sieber, unlike Kelsey Grammer, is a veteran musical theater performer. He's as perfect a Georges as you could hope for: suave, sophisticated yet convincingly still smitten with Albin — and with a rich voice to make Jerry Herman's tunes fall on the ear more enjoyably than ever. He and Fierstein have wonderful chemistry, full of tendenrness and sexuality.
The current show features some other cast changes, all of whom fit their roles well. Notably, the young bride to be has a new pair of uptight parents with a naughty libido ready to be unleashed (Alice Beasley and Mike McShane) and Albin's flamboyant maid-butler Jacob (Wilson Jermaine Heredia). One of the Cagelles, Nick Adams, has abandoned Angelique for a more prominent role in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the most fun and glitzy jukebox musical to hit the Great White Way in a while and with some similarities to La Cage — but with a less fully developed book and without an original score.
In line with Mr. Fierstein's more wink-to-the-audience take on Albin, one of the Cagelle swings, Todd Lattimore, now does the pre-show audience interaction warmup, shades of Dame Edna.
Here's the current cast list with an asterisk before a performer's name indicating a replacement: Harvey Fierstein (Albin), Christopher Sieber Georges), *Mike Mc Shane(Edouard Dindon, M. Renaud), *Alice Beasley (Mme. Dindon, Mme. Renaud), Chris Hoch (Francis), Elena Shaddow (Anne), A.J. Shively (Jean-Michel), Christine Andreas (Jacqueline), *Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Jacob), Dale Hensley (Waiter), Heather Lindell (Colette), Bruce Winant (Tabarro), Michael Lowney (Etienne), Cheryl Stern (Babette)
La Cagelles: * Matt Ancill (Angelique), Logan Keslar (Bitelle), *Sean Patrick Doyle (Chantal), Carl Warden(Hanna),*Terry Lavell (Mercedes), Yurel Echzarreta (Phaedra)
Swings: Christophe Caballero, Todd Lattimore, Caitlin Mundth.
For full production notes and the original review click here: Original Review
Life's not worth a damn
Till you can say -—'Hey world
— Albin, from the show's anthem song "I Am What I Am."
Kelsey Grammer & Douglas Hodge (Photo: Joan Marcus)
In 1983 La Cage aux Folles was Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein's way of lightening the heaviness of the burgeoning A.I.D crisis with a groundbreaking musical entertainment. It dared to turn the love that dare not speak its name into a tender love story strong on family values and was staged with dazzlingly befeathered and bewigged drag queens. Herman's catchy showtunes included " I Am What I Am," which became a gay self-esteem anthem.
La Cage's mix of night club glitz and Fedeau farce was not without problems such as the Gallic flavor being overwhelmed by a plot loaded with schmaltz, cabaret glitz and farcical mayhem. But it was silly, sentimental and fun enough to appeal to New Yorkers and tourists, young and old, singles and families for a 1,076 performance run at the Palace Theater. It also collected six Tony Awards including Best Musical Score for Herman and Best Book for Fierstein.
In case you don't know the story which also seeded the non-musical film The Birdcage, it centers around Georges and Albin, middle-aged homosexuals whose committed relationship plays out against the background of a French Riviera transvestite night club run by George and starring Albin as the fabulous Zaza. The plot twist comes courtesy of twenty-four-year-old Jean-Michel, the product of George's one-night heterosexual fling to whom they've been nurturing parents. Jean-Michel wants them to hide their non-traditional life style during a getting to know you visit from his beloved's conventional in-laws-to-be.
Almost a dozen years after its Broadway success, the time seemed ripe to bring back the ooh-la-la oomph and hummable music for a revival at the Marquis Theater. With more gay men heeding Albin's "So it's time to open up your closet" to declare "I am what I am," this La Cage ended as a love story should end — with Georges and Albin's sealing the happy ending of their love affair with a kiss.
While still fun and tuneful this production had a much more modest run (11/10/04 to 6/26/05
review), which prompts the question: Why a third Broadway run, and why so soon?
Three very good reasons!
The first and probably best reason is to see Douglas Hodge, the classic trained British actor best known for his Pinter play interpretations, portray the most delightful and incredibly poignant Albin you're ever likely to see. Hodge is better than wonderful. His Zaza is unforgettable— whether wielding an electric fan to transform herself into an iconic Marilyn Monroe image or coming out of his closet at the end of each Zaza gig triumphantly pulling off his wig. Hodge navigates masterfully between poignancy and hilarity. He is painfully appalled by the subterfuges required to prepare for the visit of Jean Michel's uptight future in-laws. Hodge is also a riot to watch when he rehearses posing as a manly Uncle Al who will "pick up that piece of toast like John Wayne" — and even more so when he saves the day by switching from the Uncle Al's manly suit to stand-in for Claude-Michel's no-show birth mother. Well, he doesn't quite save the day for this is, after all, the Fedeau farce part of the show.
Number two reason to catch this third revival is to see Kelsey Grammer make his musical debut. Though Hodge more or less owns the show, Grammer is the box office draw for American audiences. In his ruffled pink shirt, velvet jacket and with a curly lock over his forhead Grammer brings the suave wit of TV's Dr. Frasier Crane to the straight half of the loving partnership. He and Hodge have excellent rapport and unlike Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady and Yul Brynner in The King and I, Grammer does not sprech-sing his way through the part. His singing is surprisingly good— whether with the company, Albin, Jean-Michel or in his two big solos, the tender "Song on the Sand" and "Look Over There").
A far from trivial third reason to see this La Cage is Terry Johnson's smartly paced, scaled down production which evokes a welcome intimate, in your face sleaziness and Gallic aura. Johnson's playful intimacy was designed for the revival's original home, the small Menier Chocolate Factory, but it also worked in a larger London venue. And it does so again in the show's Broadway home. The fun includes giant beach balls sailing back and forth between the eponymous nightclub's Cagelles and the audience that's reminiscent of Dame Edna's gladiola toss. Jason Carr's orchestrations for an 8-man band that fits two boxes at either side of the stage do honor to Herrman's hummable score.
This production may play up a seaside resort tackiness but there's nothing tacky about Lynne Page's choreography — especially the stunning introduction of the Cagelles silhouetted against a bright orange background or the famous bird cage number (see the picture in our London review). Matthew Wright's deliciously vulgar costumes add to the visual fun.
Besides Hodge's terrifically rich acting, comic timing and singing and Grammer's proving himself to be a worthy partner, there's fine support work from the rest of the American cast. Robin De Jesus camps it up zestfully as Zaza's butler-maid and wannabe performer. Musical theater veteran Christine Andreas charms and sings well as restaurant hostess Jacqueline. Veanne Cox and Fred Applegate bring deadpan comic timing to the conservative visiting in-laws, as well as restaurateurs M. and Mme. Renaud.
A. J. Shiveley (making his Broadway debut) and Elena Shadow are engaging as the young lovers.
Not to be overlooked, of course, are the Cagelles. They are long, lean and gorgeous, with distinct personalities. And they sure can dance.
La Cage aux Folles already has its following. But the folks from London's Menier Chocolate Factory have certainly given it a face lift that will win it lots of new friends, including many of its detractors.
La Cage aux Folles |
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Based on the play by Jean Poiret
Directed by Terry Johnson
Choreographed by Lynne Page; Associate Choreographer: Nicholas Cunningham
Cast: Kelsey Grammer (Georges),
Douglas Hodge (Albin),
Fred Applegate (Edouard Dindon, M. Renaud), Veanne Cox (Mme. Dindon, Mme. Renaud),
Chris Hoch (Francis), Elena Shaddow (Anne), A.J. Shively (Jean-Michel), Christine Andreas (Jacqueline),
Robin De Jesús (Jacob), Dale Hensley (Waiter), Heather Lindell (Colette), Bill Nolte (Tabarro), David Nathan Perlow (Etienne), Cheryl Stern (Babette)
La Cagelles: Nick Adams (Angelique), Logan Keslar (Bitelle), Patrick Doyle (Chantal), Nicholas Cunningham (Hanna),Terry Lavell (Mercedes), Sean A. Carmon (Phaedra)
Swings: Christophe Caballero, Todd Lattimore, Caitlin Mundth.
Scenic Design: Tim Shortall
Costume Design: Matthew Wright
Lighting Design: Nick Richings
Sound Design: Jonathan Deans
Wig Design: Richard Mawbey
Make-Up Design: Richard Mawbey
Musical Coordinator: John Miller
Musical Supervisor: Jason Carr
Orchestra: Conductor, Keyboard s-Todd Ellison; Associate Conductor, Keyboards - Antony Geralis; Woodwinds- Steve Kenyon and Roger Rosenberg; Trumpet- Don Downs; Tenor Trombone- Keith O'Quinn; Acoustic Bass- Marc Schmied; Drums/Percussion- Sean McDaniel; Synthesizer Programmer- Randy Cohen
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes including intermission
Longacre Theater 220 Wl 49th Street 212/239-6200
Tues-Sat 8pm; Sunnday 7pm; Wed and Saturday matines at 2:30 pm; (special Sunday matinee 6/13 at 2pm; Beginning June 20, Sun matinees at 3pm
Tickets: $131.50 to $36.50; premium and Table seating $251.50
From 4/06/09; opens 4/18/10.
Closing 5/01/11 after 433 performances and 15 previews
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer April 16th press Preview
We Are What We Are . Les Cagelles and Georges
A Little More Mascara . Albin and Georges
With Anne on My Arm . Jean-Michel and Georges
With You on My Arm . Georges and Albin
Song on the Sand . Georges
La Cage aux Folles . Company
1 Am What ! Am . Albin
Song on the Sand (Reprise) . Georges and Albin
Masculinity. Albin, Georges, M. Renaud, Mme. Renaud and Tabarrov
Look Over There . Georges
Cocktail Counterpoint . Anne, Edouard Dindon, Mme. Dindon, Georges, Jacob and Jean-Michel
The Best of Times. Company
Look Over There (Reprise) . Georges,Jean-Michel
Finale . Company
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