Thursday, April 22, 2010

Blissful Cage


La Cage aux Folles

Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman

Book by Harvey Fierstein

Directed by Terry Johnson

Starring Douglas Hodge, Kelsey Grammer, A.J. Shively, Fred Applegate, Veanne Cox, Robin de Jesus, Christine Andreas, Elena Shaddow, Chris Hoch, Heather Lindell, Nick Adams, Nicholas Cunningham, Sean Patrick Doyle, Terry Lavell, Logan Keslar, Sean A. Carmon

Performances began April 6, 2010

Longacre Theater

220 West 48th Street

Even though its lead characters--Albin, a drag-queen performer, and Georges, his impresario-lover--are openly, unashamedly gay, La Cage aux Folles has always been an old-fashioned musical at heart. That’s why it was a huge Broadway hit 30 years ago and why the new revival will also pack ‘em in for awhile.

Terry Johnston’s staging, imported from London where it was also (natch) a smash, presents a rundown and shabby-looking La Cage, which, aside from being different from the original’s dazzling glitz, doesn’t make much sense. But it doesn’t detract from enjoying the show, a good but not great musical with several good but not great songs and a good but not great book. It’s solid craftsmanship all the way, and even if Jerry Herman’s tunes and Harvey Fierstein’s one-liners are more proficient than inspired, that’s no problem, as long as the cast is up to the task. And this cast (mostly) is.

In small parts, veterans Chris Hoch, Veanne Cox, Fred Applegate and Christine Andreas show how hard work keeps any show moving, while A.J. Shivley (as Georges’ son Jean-Michel) and Elena Shaddow (as his fiancĂ©e, Anne) can’t overcome their flimsily-written roles. Robin DeJesus, so spectacular in In the Heights, is equally in his campy element as Georges and Albin’s “maid,” Jacob. “Les Cagelles”--Albin’s drag-queen backup singer-dancers--are played by an incredibly athletic sextet, Nick Adams, Nicholas Cunningham, Sean Patrick Doyle, Terry Lavell, Logan Keslar, and Sean A. Carmon.

Douglas Hodge, who won the Olivier Award in London, plays Albin, and while he gives a boisterous, infectious performance, it is the showiest lead and the actor definitely plays it to the hilt, and even beyond: his ad-libs and constant winks to the audience are cute but unnecessary. Still, he pulls off his big number, “I Am What I Am,” brilliantly, and there’s terrific chemistry with Kelsey Grammer, who shows his innate professionalism and low-key star power as Georges. Though not a great singer, Grammer gets through Herman’s songs with impressive star quality; what will be interesting to see is, if Grammer takes over Albin’s role when Hodge leaves the show, as is being reported, how he‘d handle the campiness.

For now, the two stars go a long way toward making this revisit to La Cage a blissful one.

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