Jerry Herman’s dazzling musical La Cage Aux Folles is back on Broadway starring five-time Emmy Award winner Kelsey Grammer making his Broadway musical debut as Georges opposite the acclaimed British actor Douglas Hodge reprising his Olivier Award winning role as the drag queen Albin. The two make a nice match as the gay owners of a nightclub on the French Riviera, where Albin performs as Zaza in the glitzy drag revue, which goes on nightly in their downstairs club. The intimate heartfelt production directed by Terry Johnson with bold style began life at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London in late 2007 winning rave reviews before moving to the West End. Now La Cage is a New York treat worth savoring.
The hit 1983 musical has a clever book by Harvey Fierstein that tugs at the heart strings and there are unforgettable songs by the maestro Herman like “I Am Who I Am,” “Look Over There,” and “The Best of Times.” The show was mounted on Broadway just five years ago, winning a Tony Award for Best Musical Revival, but Johnson’s scaled down fresh approach with a small band is a resourceful delight giving the evening a seedy realistic appeal that was missing from the big glossy earlier versions. His entertaining production goes for the laughs, but also has a deep emotional impact.
The Cagelles, the performers in the racy drag show at the rather tacky club, number only six this time around and are muscular types that give no illusion to real women, except for their sparklingly drag. The original had real women mixed in with the transvestites, and it was difficult to tell them apart. These new Cagelles are surprising tough even though they wear sequined gowns and their dance routines are brashly athletic.
Georges and Albin have been together for 20 years and raised Georges’ son Jean-Michel (A.J. Shively) conceived from a brief encounter. Jean-Michel has just become engaged to Ann (Elena Shaddow) the daughter of a super conservative politician Dindon (Fred Applegate) and is intent on making a nice impression on Ann’s parents planned visit. He fears Zaza will be too outrageous and ruin the nuptials, so he wants Georges to ban her from being there and have his real mother present instead, giving way to much dramatic comedy.
When Jean-Michel’s mother cancels at the last minute, Albin in a generous gesture, despite his hurt feelings, dons pearls and a skirt to fill in for her. Events go drastically sour, when Zaza’s true identity is revealed, but the story manages a happy ending because of the young couples enduring love.
Grammer, a surprisingly nice baritone, turns in a warm witty performance. And the entire ensemble is top notch, especially Robin DeJesus, who plays Albin’s streetwise maid as a wanabe star that will do anything for a chance to be in a show. However, Douglas Hodge is simply sensation and his performance as the temperamental Albin has colorful nuance along with bravura outbursts. His version of “I Am Who I Am,” that closes the first act, is a scorching testament to being true to yourself.
If all the characters have different accents it doesn’t much matter the evening has punch! Anytime Jerry Herman is in town is a cause to celebrate, so if you are in the mood for a four star musical classic “The Best of Times” is now.
By Patrick Christiano
La Cage Aux Folles is now playing at the Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. For tickets call Telecharge.com at 212-239-6200 or online at www.telechargecom/lacage
Photos: Joan Marcus