×

La Cage aux Folles

Why bring back "La Cage aux Folles" only five years after its first Broadway revival?

With:
Georges - Kelsey Grammer Francis - Chris Hoch Jacob - Robin De Jesus Albin - Douglas Hodge Jean-Michel - A.J. Shively Anne - Elena Shaddow Jacqueline - Christine Andreas M. Renaud/M. Dindon - Fred Applegate Mme. Renaud/Mme. Dindon - Veanne Cox

Why bring back “La Cage aux Folles” — a major hit musical of the 1983-84 Broadway season, but certainly not a classic like “Gypsy” or “Fiddler on the Roof” — only five years after its first Broadway revival? Especially when that 2004-05 stint proved a tired and unnecessary affair, suggesting that the original production (with its six Tony Awards) was stronger than the material. The producers of this new edition, which premiered at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory in 2007, have a convincing answer: It’s funny, heartwarming and terrific.

“La Cage” is the Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein musical in which one of the stars memorably confesses that when the going gets tough he simply puts on a little more mascara. Director Terry Johnson succeeds so well here by putting on both more and less mascara simultaneously. More mascara by letting Douglas Hodge, in the guise of the flamboyant drag-queen Albin (aka Zaza), play the role like, well, more of a flamboyant drag-queen than in prior major productions. Less mascara in that this is a stripped-down, mid-budget production; all those sequins and all that glitz that characterized Broadway’s prior visits to St. Tropez have been toned down, allowing the audience to concentrate more on the tender and relatively simple story at the heart of the piece. (But not simplistic; “La Cage” is a masterpiece of dramaturgy compared to the similarly plotted musical they made out of “The Addams Family.”)

The heart of the piece: that’s what we get in this “La Cage,” and that’s what makes Johnson’s production so tenderly affecting. The original — acknowledging the socio-political temper of the times — seemed to go to great lengths to present its leading men as not actually a (sexual) couple. The first revival, for offstage reasons, seemed to feature leading men who actively hated each other. Here, finally, we have a realistic and believable pair who have been devotedly living with each other for a quarter century. And that makes “La Cage” more emotionally effective than before.

The producers are fortunate to have imported Hodge, who won an Olivier for this role. He comes on looking and acting like Colleen Dewhurst playing farce, and proceeds to offer a performance at once grandly over-the-top (in the first act) and emotionally grabbing (in the second). The surprise of the evening comes from Kelsey Grammer as Georges. He plays the comedy and acts the host perfectly well, but in “Song on the Sand” and “Look Over There” he gets to the heart: Here is a man earnestly and enduringly in love.

Supporting cast is almost uniformly excellent, led by fine comedians Fred Applegate (as the right-wing zealot of a prospective in-law) and Veanne Cox (as his not-so-straightlaced wife). A.J. Shively plays the son Jean-Michel with more spirit and less plasticity than usual, as does Elena Shaddow (Fanny to Applegate’s Panisse in the recent Encores production of that other French Mediterranean musical, “Fanny”). The big-voiced Christine Andreas is all but invisible in the role of restaurateur Jacqueline, while Robin De Jesus — who was a prime asset in “In the Heights” — seems to have wandered into the wrong musical as the maid-butler Jacob. Les Cagelles of the affair make a prime sextuplet; each and every one of them enhances the evening’s entertainment value.

Choreographer Lynne Page keeps those Cagelles amusingly busy, whipping the title song to a delightful frenzy, while the U.K. design team’s compact but effective production perfectly suits the directorial concept. Musical director Todd Ellison capably leads his eight-piece band from a pair of balconies flanking the set. Jason Carr did the reorchestration, which is considerably more successful than his reduction of “A Little Night Music” across the street.

So chalk up this almost-too-soon revival as a victory for its producers. Director Johnson, last here in 2002 with Kathleen Turner and that ill-begotten “The Graduate,” is warmly welcomed back to Broadway. But mostly one should raise a glass of champagne — not the watered-down stuff — to Herman and Fierstein. Their big, glitzy musical comedy hit of 1983 turns out to have a tender heart.

La Cage aux Folles

Longacre Theater; 1,050 seats;$132.50 top

Production: A Sonia Friedman Prods., David Babani, Fran and Barry Weissler, Edwin W. Schloss, Bob Bartner/Norman Tulchin, Broadway Across America, Matthew Mitchell, Raise the Roof 4, Richard Winkler/Bensinger Taylor/Laudenslager Bergere, Arlene Scanlan/John O'Boyle, Independent Presenters Network, Olympus Theatricals, Allen Spivak, Jerry Frankel/Bat-Barry Prods., Nederlander Presentations/Harvey Weinstein, Menier Chocolate Factory presentation of a musical in two acts with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, book by Harvey Fierstein. Directed by Terry Johnson. Musical director, Todd Ellison, choreography, Lynne Page.

Creative: Sets, Tim Shortall; costumes, Matthew Wright; lighting, Nick Richings; sound, Jonathan Deans; hair and make-up, Richard Mawbey; orchestrations, music supervision and dance arrangements, Jason Carr; production stage manager, Kristen Harris. Opened April 18, 2010, reviewed April 15. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.

Cast: Georges - Kelsey Grammer Francis - Chris Hoch Jacob - Robin De Jesus Albin - Douglas Hodge Jean-Michel - A.J. Shively Anne - Elena Shaddow Jacqueline - Christine Andreas M. Renaud/M. Dindon - Fred Applegate Mme. Renaud/Mme. Dindon - Veanne CoxWith: Dale Hensley, Heather Lindell, Caitlin Mundth, Bill Nolte, David Nathan Perlow, Cheryl Stern.

More Legit

  • Because of Winn Dixie review

    Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn Dixie,' the Musical

    Watching the musical “Because of Winn Dixie” at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn., it’s hard not to think of another show that premiered in the same regional theater 43 years ago. It, too, featured a scruffy stray dog, a lonely-but-enterprising young girl and a closed-off daddy who finally opens up. But “Winn Dixie,” based [...]

  • MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOWby

    Off Broadway Review: 'Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow'

    There’s something about Anton Chekhov’s whiny sisters that invites comic sendups of “Three Sisters” like the one Halley Feiffer wrote on commission for the Williamstown Theater Festival. Transferred to MCC Theater’s new Off Broadway space and playing in the round in a black box with limited seating capacity, the crafty show feels intimate and familiar. [...]

  • the way she spoke review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

    Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the [...]

  • HBO's 'SUCCESSION

    Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of 'The Great Society'

    Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.” The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in [...]

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • The Night of the Iguana review

    West End Review: 'The Night of the Iguana' With Clive Owen

    If Tennessee Williams is the poet laureate of lost souls, none of his characters as are off-grid as the restless travelers trying to make it through his little-seen 1961 play, “The Night of the Iguana.” Holed up in a remote Mexican homestay, its ragtag itinerants live hand-to-mouth, day by day, as they seek refuge from [...]

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content