A CurtainUp Review
La Cage Aux Folles
By Elyse Sommer
You probably know the story from the Mike Nichols non-musical film, The Birdcage. Georges and Albion are two middle-aged homosexuals whose committed relationship plays out against the background of a St. Tropez night club named Cage aux Folle (George runs it and Albion is its transvestite star, the fabulous ZaZa). It no longer breaks new ground as it did during its 1,761 performance, Tony Award winning run twenty years ago. If written today, Jean-Michel, the product of George's one-night heterosexual fling to whom Albin has been a nurturing mother, would probably feel no need to hide his unusual family background from conventional in-laws to be.
Though it may seem dated, La Cage is timely as could be. Gender crossing performers are much in vogue and Albin and the high-kicking Cagelles, are no longer the only gown-clad, bewigged guys in the neighborhood. La Cage librettist, Harvey Fierstein, originated the role of Hairspray's Edna Turnblatt and Australia's favorite cross-dresser, Barry Humphreys, is once again proving that there's nothing like a dame named Edna Everage.
What still resonates about this love affair is the tender heart beating beneath all the razza-ma-tazz. What's more, the events that followed the Broadway run, make Georges' and Albin's monogamous relationship seem remarkably prescient. It's also ironically timely to have a show with "I Am What I Am" as it's big anthem endorse Family Values as firmly as any right wing, anti-gay marriage conservative group. Politics aside -- and La Cage was always intended as a feel-good musical entertainment rather than as an in-your-face political statement -- this revival once again makes St. Tropez the place to be for a rip-roaring good time.
The two lovers have found well-matched interpreters in Daniel Davis as the more male partner and Gary Beach as the temperamental Albin. Davis has one of those elegantly modulated speaking voices that is music to the ears even when he's not singing. But there's nothing sprech-stimme about his rich baritone. His "Song in the Sand" deserves its second act encore (this time with Albin). His homage to Albin's unstinting love, "Look Over There," tugs powerfully at your heartstrings.
Gary Beach, best known as Roger DeBris in The Producers, is adorable and touchingly heartbroken at being temporarily disowned by the young man he views as his son. Just watch his face when during George's "Look Over There." If he seems too often to be channelling Nathan Lane (Albin in The Birdcage), he's at least chosen a great role model.
The pony-tail spouting Gavin Creel and Angela Gaylor play the couple whose engagement prompts a visit to St. Tropez for a meeting between the incompatible parents. These young lovers, especially Gaylor, are somewhat innocuous compared to the more interesting and endearing older ones, but this is in large part due to the plot contrivance that turns the second act into a wild farce.
Much of the enjoyment from this dance and song filled evening is provided by the dozen long-stemmed Les Cagelles. Those who saw the original production may look in vain for a female or two tucked amid the men in drag as something of a cherchez la femme joke, but the all male ensemble does just fine. They execute Jerry Mitchell's energetic dance routines with élan -- from a flamboyant can-can to dazzling acrobatics in the super show-biz birdcage number. If there's one complaint it's that director Jerry Zaks allows some of the dances to go on too long, in the same way he fails to reign in some of the excessive slapstick.
William Ivey Long contributes to the visual flair with gorgeously gaudy costumes. He's also something of a magician, transforming one glittery dress worn by ZaZa into a sleek black velvet gown in the blink of an eye. Scott Pask's sets take us in and around St. Tropez, including a waterfront street scene, atmospherically lit by Donald Holder, and with an oversized moon for a final tender kiss for the two leads (probably a bow to today's more broad-minded audiences).
As mentioned earlier, this is a big cast; too big to detail contributions by performers like the somewhat underused but always welcome Ruth Williamson who here plays the busty proprietor of a fancy restaurant. Patrick Vaccariello's orchestra plays Jerry Herman's catchy songs with gusto but not too loud to drown out his winsome lyrics.
This La Cage is not perfect, but it never was. To paraphrase it's hit song, "it is what it is." You get lot of bang for your buck and it's a safe bet that the final curtain will leave you with a smile on your face and a song on your lips.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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