22 April 2011


Note: While La Cage closes on Broadway on May 1, I have heard since I've been in New York that it will reopen soon Off-Broadway, so I hope this review is of use to those who see it in its home after the Longacre. Perhaps the iteration I saw will even provide a glimpse into the direction/trajectory of the show for its Off-Broadway life.

How (Much)
La Cage Aux Folles: New Broadway Cast Recording
TKTS, $103, front mezzanine. I never pay that much and am always a rush/lottery theatergoer (as a result of my own budget, not the value I place on the work). Two factors made me break my rules: 1) I've rushed La Cage before and did not like the view from the box seats (way too much action was cut off, including a bewitching Cagelles birdcage routine), and 2) Harvey Fierstein. I felt I had to see him in this role so I did what I needed to do to make it happen. The third-row, center-left mezzanine seat was solid - sightlines were fine, nothing spectacular but pretty much what you would expect from those seats.

Just me!

On this, my second viewing of La Cage, I've become convinced that this piece - which is anchored by a simple but strong score and witty book - is a work of art in the right hands. I saw the Kelsey Grammar/Douglas Hodge iteration and was not at all taken by Grammar's stiff, completely disengaged Georges and Hodge's overwraught, whiny and unlikeable Albin/Zaza. If you've seen "The Birdcage," you know these characters can be played with exceptional humanity, grace and complexity, but none of that was on display the last time I saw the stage version. Everything changed this time around.

One of my favorite things about Harvey Fierstein is that he is known for being completely over-the-top (people hear Harvey and think Edna Turnblad) but he is actually a very subtle, careful actor. So yes, he is fabulous in drag (and the incredible disconnect between his voice and his look never ceases to be hilarious), but the true gems of his performance are the little things - his reactions to betrayals large and small, his moments of resolve to help even those who have hurt him, and, most of all, the love he shows for his partner Georges. I truly believed their long-term, mature relationship this time, and it singlehandedly made the rest of the plot work. In short, Harvey Fierstein was enchanting and utterly delightful to witness and I could hardly take my eyes off of him.

The other half of this onstage couple was Christopher Sieber as Georges. Sieber is another longtime favorite and I've always appreciated the way he brings great complexity to characters that would be easy caricatures (the buffoon, the villain). He didn't disappoint this time around, carrying the plot on his able shoulders with great energy and engagement along with a strong emotional core. Wilson Jermaine Heredia was another standout, taking on the butler/maid role with the requisite pizzazz without devolving into cloying or incomprehensible.

I was glad to see another change from the last time I saw La Cage, which was the addition of different drag body types for the Cagelles. I always wondered why they went exclusively with what seems to be the Broadway drag standard - tall, muscled men with pecs hanging out of costumes that only highlight their bodies' every masculine quality - instead of featuring a wide range of drag styles, from standard ultra-feminine (the height of illusion) to gender-bending and androgynous. This time, the Cagelles featured slightly more of a range, which I appreciated for its realness. I was not a fan of using a female understudy for a missing Cagelle, however. Takes a bit of the energy out of, "What we are is an illusion." Otherwise, halleloo for the Cagelles.

After all of the talk of performances and portrayals, discussing the plot sounds like an afterthought, but it's important if only to highlight the one lingering concern I have about La Cage. Albin and Georges own a drag nightclub in 1970s France. Georges' son stops by, announcing that he is getting married to the daughter of a right-wing politician and they are coming over for dinner immediately. He demands his family become acceptable to his future in-laws by redecorating, inviting his biological mother (who has never been a part of his life) over for the meal, and banishing the ultra-embarrassing Albin. Incredibly insensitive and insulting, yes, and alternating offenses and hijinks ensue.

It's the setting that is the sticking point for me. I rarely support modern interpretations of classic or resetting shows to the modern day, but I think it would really work here. I find the French and period references constant stumbling blocks to comprehension. They sound antiquated and superfluous. Besides, this storyline is completely at home in the modern day. Take the Miami Beach setting the makers of the film version expertly chose and make the politican a member of the religious right (or even the Tea Party), a John McCain or John Boehner-type. I think it would eliminate the distracting and confusing French details and occassionally cringe-worthy styling (Georges' maroon velvet dinner jacket is my first nominee) while simultaneously giving the story an urgency it deserves.

If You Like
  • Priscilla Queen of the Desert, because everyone should know their history
  • The irresistible combination of garishness and heart in shows like Hairspray
  • The actors in the lead roles, because the casting really takes this show from hit to miss and back again

Bottom Line
See it for the beautiful score and book, and hope that they cast it well moving forward Off-Broadway.