The problem I’ve often had with La
Cage Aux Folles, a show
of which I am quite fond, is that what the authors cited as its central
issue—how the insensitivity of a gay couple’s son nearly wrecks the
“marriage”—has never truly read, in any prior staging I’ve ever
encountered, as that threatening.
Certainly it wasn’t so in the original.
part that had to do with the dramatization and musicalization itself: Son
Jean-Michel announces to his “straight” (non-flamboyant) father
Georges—owner of an infamous gay night club and theatre on the French
Riviera—that he wants to marry Anne, the daughter of crusading
arch-conservative Dindon, and needs to introduce Anne’s parents to his own. But
because his “mother” is Albin, the flaming transvestite star performer of La
Cage, more famous as drag-queen Zaza,
Jean-Michel requests that Albin be absent for the meeting. What he sings to
convince George is not an impassioned plea about the price he had to pay growing
up as the adopted son of an extravagantly effeminate man, and not wanting to
pay the price anew with his future—that sentiment is relegated to a few
quick lines—no, he does a boulevard stroll about his girl called “With
Anne on My Arm.” But, and this is not a put-down, it’s the kind of song that Jerry Herman knows how to
write—the darker colors tend not to be in his palate, at least not quite
in that way—so the emotional stakes are left to book scenes.
part, the lack of emotional force had to do with direction. Arthur Laurents,
director of the original production, provided a staging that felt, to me,
utilitarian and functional, with nearly everyone but the two leads (George
Hearn and Gene Barry) seeming two-dimensional. Great fun to be sure, but the family
drama proved only an excuse for the comedy and farce.
the new, imported production, come to Broadway from The Chocolate Factory in
London, director Terry Johnson, in
tailoring the show to a smaller, up-close venue, has, with his cast, imbued a kind
of kitchen-sink musical theatre acting—it forsakes nothing in the way of
timing or show biz savvy, yet there’s a slice-of-life detailing that allows the
cast members to fill previously unfilled moments—and the balance seems,
at last, what the authors really intended.
said, this also presents a mild disjunct. Since slice-of-life verisimilitude is
at odds with songs like “With Anne on My
Arm” there are moments when the experiment feels a klik or two off the mark.
They aren’t enough to compromise the joy of the event, just to keep the
immersion into a different ambiance from being complete.
Cage is (consciously) a slightly seedier
and smaller club than it has been previously (design by Tim Shortall);
and there are fewer Cagelles (the tranny dancers, costumes by Matthew Wright), and their routines are a little scruffier. But
this is all to the good.
wish, though, that Douglas Hodge’s
Albin—originally the ostensible reason for importing the production in
the first place—were as effective as the hype about him. Oh he’s an
impressive and charismatic actor, to be sure, but I was constantly aware of how
hard he seemed to be working to put nuance and variety into his numbers. And of
course, when you’re aware of an actor at work, you’re not thinking about
Kelsey Grammer’s Georges is smooth,
superb and just tarnished and clumsy enough under the surface—not unlike
his signature TV character Frasier—to be endearing. (And it will be really
interesting to revisit the production in six months, after Mr. Hodge
leaves and Mr. Grammar assumes the role of Albin.)
rest of the cast has likewise been selected and directed for well-rounded
portraiture, with the result that formerly imprint-free roles now actually
accommodate their performers’ humanistic nuances—and vice versa, with
stalwarts such as Christine Andreas, Veanne
Cox and Fred Applegate getting the most mileage out of the least material;
and as maid-butler Jacob, Robin de Jesus does quite a bit more than that.
in all, this jewel box revival is a perfect/imperfect triumph, not least
because the last Broadway revival, a far less effective one, was only five
years ago. You wouldn’t have thought—indeed, I think most of us wouldn’t
have thought—that La Cage could be
rendered that fresh and that inviting that soon. But it is. And you could have
knocked me over with a boa…