La Cage Aux Folles
nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
April 21, 2010
La Cage Aux Folles is a lot of fun. I don't know if I have ever seen so many muscles onstage before. The eight "Cagelles" drag dancers can-can and split with ferocious energy, their attitude—and they have a lot of attitude—veering from pissed-off to triumphant as they ripplingly execute Lynn Page's exciting choreography. While the show is not as pointed or as groundbreaking as it must have been when it first opened in 1983, it does make for an enjoyable evening and provides an always relevant message of acceptance.
La Cage, with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Harvey Fierstein, is the story of Georges and Albin, a middle-aged couple who live above their drag nightclub La Cage Aux Folles. Georges emcees the show and Albin, bewigged and bejeweled, appears as the delightfully over-the-top Zaza, singing front and center as the aforementioned Cagelles dance on.
Then Jean-Michel, Georges's son, arrives and announces that he is engaged. Herein lies the rub: not only is Jean-Michel, much to Albin's chagrin, going to marry a woman, but her father, Monsieur Dindon, is the head of the "Tradition, Family and Morality Party." While Jean-Michel launches a mini-crusade against the flamboyant decor of his parents' apartment, Georges is forced to tell Albin that, despite having co-raised Jean-Michel, Albin is not welcome to meet the prospective in-laws.
Kelsey Grammer, as Georges, has a very nice stage presence and a constant twinkle in his eye, while Douglas Hodges, as Albin, is an exceedingly versatile singer and performer giving one star turn after another. His rendition of "I Am What I Am" is a particularly poignant mix of hurt and resilience. Robin de Jesus delivers a very funny performance as Albin and Georges's flamboyant butler, Jacob, who ceaselessly defends his "mistress" Albin and wants only to appear onstage at La Cage aux Folles.
Despite the potentially edgy subject matter, this is an old-school musical comedy in style. Matthew Wright's sparkling, feathered, luscious costumes, Richard Mawbey's colorful wig and makeup design, and Tim Shortall's scenic design all ensure that La Cage is as glitzy and showy as possible. Director Terry Johnson has found a few moments of subtle genuineness that are quite heartwarming: Albin's reluctance to let Georges hold his hand in public and an overdue kiss as the curtain comes down.
The question that must be asked though, particularly of a revival, is: why this show now? Intellectually, based on the subject matter, there is a strong reason to do this show—gay rights is certainly a hot button issue. Yet this production feels like it is on Broadway right now because Frasier star Kelsey Grammer agreed to do it. And perhaps that is enough, since it is giving a new audience, myself included, a chance to see a historically important production.
Yet, in 2010, the musical seems dated and surprisingly tame. As fun as this third Broadway production of La Cage is, I wonder if audiences aren't ready for a show that takes an even bigger leap towards equality and acceptance.