Answer: Who is Kelsey Grammer?
Question: What is the reason to see the new production of La Cage Aux Folles?
Whenever a revival is mounted, it’s important to know not just how, but also why, it’s being done. As a vehicle for Grammer, La Cage works just fine. He is charming; his voice sounds good; and in his purple smoking jacket and Pompadour toupee, he’s very handsome.
Douglas Hodge flounces, weeps, and ultimately dazzles to perfection. Hodge, a renowned Shakespearian actor, won an Olivier award for his performance, and rightly so. He’s so far over the top, he’s come back up the other side. It’s right on for the role, especially when Albin is transformed into his stage persona, cabaret star Zaza. The problem is, this is Dame Edna to a T, and with every turn down of the lower lip corner, every eyebrow raised, I couldn’t get the matron with the lavender coif out of my mind. The wigs, the spangles, the falsetto, have all been done here very recently, and much bigger.
In fact, after the 1973 French play, turned into the 1978 French film, turned into the 1983 Broadway play, turned into the 1996 American film The Birdcage, turned into the current 2010 stage revival, well, is there really that much more to say?
Many in the audience the night I saw the show would reply with a resounding “yes,” and here is this critic’s dilemma. I don’t review in a vacuum. I’m sitting in the theater, largely unmoved, while all around me, others are cheering, clapping, having the time of their lives. In the row in front of mine, a young man proudly shows off the souvenir T-shirt he’s bought during intermission. I had observed him earlier, brushing away tears during the signature first act curtain closer, “I Am What I Am.” During the second act, “Look Over There” brings a similar result. How can anyone listen to one of the best musical theater songs ever written, “The Best Of Times,” without acknowledging its use as an anthem for AIDS sufferers?
It seemed to me that a great majority of those who’d bought tickets were ardent supporters of Gay Rights, and that perhaps in light of recent backlash from the far right, they felt this show to be very timely, indeed.
But still, the current staging lacks the scope of the previous Broadway production, and the show suffers for it. True, the story of two men living above the nightclub they own and share, one as impresario, one as diva, in truth doesn’t require grandeur. And at the heart of the story is the question of acceptance, primarily involving Jean-Michel, Georges’ son. Yet, I for one like to see the money on the stage, and I miss the lavish vision that this small, confined place becomes filled with extravagance through the imagination of the audience.
I also miss the gorgeous showgirls. None of the male dancers are here transformed. As in other nostalgic shows (South Pacific, for one), the gym rat bodies just aren’t appropriate. The bulging biceps and knotty legs on these “girls” are completely unattractive. There is no fantasy fulfillment, and without it, what really is the point of the onstage lives these unique individuals lead?
Thank heaven for the always superb Christine Andreas (above), as restaurant owner Jacqueline. Along with her wonderful voice, she brings a note of true glamour to the production. Likewise, Veanne Cox is a largely underrated actress who is often stuck in roles as repressed, unhappy women. It’s a rare treat to watch her break out at the end of the show.
There’s real chemistry between Grammer and Hodge, which makes it easy to accept them as an old married couple. For those who’ve come to see their TV favorite from the long running hit Frasier, Grammer delivers. It’s great fun when Zaza performs her show stopping production number as Marilyn Monroe; her take on Piaf is spot on, too. The other actors, including Robin De Jesus in the often cringe worthy role of Jacob, and A.J. Shively (“Get me a young Matthew Morrison!”) as the ungrateful Jean-Michel, contribute admirably to the evening. On the other hand, the wigs are truly awful.
But as I reflect, what sticks with me most is the image of a young man, sitting by himself in the dark in a theater full of strangers, silently wiping the tears from his eyes.
La Cage Aux Folles
220 West 48th Street
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, International Association of Theatre Critics, Dance Critics Association, and National Book Critics Circle. firstname.lastname@example.org. michalljeffers.com