What? Another revival of “La Cage Aux Folles?” And this one just five years after the first revival of this 1983 musical. What makes this version stand apart from the original and its equally glitzy and gaudy revival is the newly prescribed intimacy of this staging that comes to Broadway courtesy of London’s Menier Chocolate Factory production. What more could you want or expect from this largely adored, loveably risque musical comedy than to see it through new eyes and a new perspective.
In many ways the new delightfully scaled-down production, beautifully directed by Terry Johnson and excitingly choreographed by Lynne Page, not only affords a more pronounced romantic edge to this Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein collaboration but also rejoices in its gay family friendly values more proudly than ever in the face of the most recent waves of homophobic politicking.
Based on the longest running stage play ever produced in Paris and subsequently made into an enormously successful French film (plus a sequel) and an American film “The Birdcage,” “La Cage” the musical remains the best of the adaptations. The original production ran almost four years on Broadway. The collaborators took playwright Jean Poiret’s original somewhat superficial romp about two aging homosexual partners — George and Albin — and supplemented the basic plot’s farcical improbabilities with a heartfelt respect for the old-fashioned institution of marriage.
Even the traditional values governing parental respect, domesticity, and finally, life, are addressed without ever losing the basic underlying fun of it all. How’s that for a theme that uses, and rarely abuses, the alternative lifestyle as its host? How George and Albin have managed to raise George’s heterosexual son (the result of an indiscretion with a chorus girl 21 years ago) from infancy right up to his impending nuptials while living in the off-centered world of a St. Tropez transvestite nightclub is only alluded to. It is how George, the suavely sophisticated owner and master of ceremonies of this famous club, and Albin, his prominently feminine lover and drag queen star of the gloriously tacky “en travestie” extravaganzas, face the problem of meeting a prospective daughter-in-law and her ultra-conservative parents that keeps us alternately laughing and wiping away a tear or two.
If nothing else, the fast-paced, often funny production numbers and the quality of the dancing in this wittily and winningly conceived production is sure to please the most demanding audiences. As it was in the original production, the show’s dancing highlight remains the most exuberant can-can you’ve ever seen, danced by a (smaller than usual) line of the most closely shaved, long-limbed chorus girls (actually boys) ever to cartwheel and split across a stage. Choreographer Page has to be commended for selecting a formidable line of high-kicking drag queens for their dancing/acrobatic brilliance.
But the best treats come from Herman’s score, which is filled with lilting melodies and sturdy sentiments. “We Are What We Are” has almost become the anthem of gay liberation and “The Best of Times” has become a hand-clapping rouser for almost any occasion. What a treat to get to see Douglas Hodge, a triple Olivier-nominated classical actor and the winner of an Olivier Award for his performance as Albin, a.k.a. Zaza, do a repeat on Broadway. It’s difficult to point to any one moment when Hodge isn’t either breaking your heart or making it beat a little harder, especially when he is showing us what a little mascara will do. The point is that beatified motherhood and marriage and bawdy showmanship have never been more blissfully or more poignantly united.
Kelsey Grammer’s challenging forays to Broadway (“Macbeth” and “Othello”) are second only to his TV fame in such series “Cheers,” “Frasier,” and “The Simpsons.” But here he is not only debonair but simply dandy as Albin’s partner, Georges. Grammer is no slouch as a singer and gets to prove it as he tenderly croons the show’s most memorable ballad, “The Song of the Sand,” to Albin under a full moon.
The supporting players seem an altogether joyous collection of types. Hired as the butler, but staying on to become the maid, Robin De Jesus makes the most of his opportunities to camp up the charade, as Jacob. Also winning are A.J. Shively, as Jean-Michel, the quite respectable result of his father’s one-night stand, and Elena Shaddow, as his beguiling, very respectable fiancee.
Fred Applegate is stiffly funny as the morality-preaching father and politician but it’s nothing to the laughs he gets in full drag. Ditto his wife, hilariously played by Veanne Cox (who also doubles as Mme. Renaud, and whom McCarter audiences will recognize from her role as Olivia in “Twelfth Night” last spring). Christine Andreas plants herself squarely in the spotlight as Jacqueline, a publicity-seeking restaurateur. There is a perpetual gleam in her eye that personifies the sparkle behind this petite and very precious “La Cage.”
The costumes designed by Matthew Wright don’t appear to be minus the amount of feathers and sequins that would embroider other productions, just a bit more fabulously tawdry. Set designer Tim Shortall has artfully evoked St. Tropez as well as he has the hilarious decor change of George and Albin’s apartment from the phallic to the monastic. Beyond the glitter and the gaiety, “La Cage” remains a love story of unconventional lovers who want to end up, after all is said and done, holding hands and walking into the St. Tropez sunset. ****
“La Cage Aux Folles,” Longacre Theater, 220 West 49th Street. $36.50 to $131.50; premium and table seating $251.50. 212-239-6200.