Thursday, March 24, 2011

theatre review, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, Broadway, March 23, 2011

                                             The current Broadway revival of La Cage Aux Folles is coming up on it's one year anniversary.  Originally starring Kelsey Grammer and Tony Winner Douglas Hodge, the 2010 revival recently underwent a change of it's two leads.  Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book for the show, is now playing "Albin" the drag queen half of the main couple and Chris Sieber is now playing "Georges" the, er, straight man half of the couple.

Fierstein has never appeared in this show before, which when you think about it is quite amazing, since he won a Tony in 1984 for the book of the musical and is equally known as an actor and a writer.  This revival also won the 2010 Tony for Best Musical Revival.

For those who have never seen this show, the French film it is based on or the American film The Birdcage, which was based on the French film, the plot of the show is as follows: son of a gay drag club owner plans to get married to the daughter of a right wing, ultra conservative politician.  The boy's other father,   who is the star drag queen at the club, disguises himself as the boy's mother in order for the marriage to go forward since the girl's parents insist on meeting both of the boy's parents and the boy's biological mother isn't able to make it.   Of course, nothing goes as planned, and hilarity ensues.

Fierstein and Sieber are simply brilliant.  They both have an amazing emotional connection to each other and the other actor's in the show.  The production itself is still in top form. The second leads and ensemble, most having been in the show since it started last year, are still a well oiled professional machine.  I especially like A. J. Shively as "Georges" son and Wilson Jermaine Heredia who is now playing "Jacob"-Albin's maid.  I also like how Mike McShane and Allyce Beasley, who play the girl's parents, also play the owners of the cafe who we see several times and who are obviously very close to Georges and Albin, it's a nice mirror image of the parents they play in act two.  And, of course, the score by Jerry Herman has many gems that still sound beautiful even when sung by Fierstein with his fog horn voice.
And, as much as I enjoyed the large scale grandeur of the original broadway cast, which I saw twice back in the late 80's, I will say that presenting the story on a somewhat smaller scale, with a smaller cast, in a smaller theatre, allows more focus to be put on the main characters and less on the ensemble, sets and costumes.  Something that Priscilla, Queen of the Desert doesn't exactly allow to happen - see my review of that show here.  Sometimes less is actually more.  And, the original 1984 production of La Cage actually played at the Palace Theatre where Priscilla opened this past Sunday. 

We were fortunate enough to have been at the last performance of Grammer and Hodge, on February 13th.   They both were great in their roles, but you always knew they were two straight men playing gay.  The original 1984 production also had two straight men as the leads, George Hearn was "Albin" and Gene Barry was "Georges." So there is something to be said to now having two actual gay men playing these parts.  They both obviously have a lifetime of experience to draw upon instead of with Grammer and Hodge who, even though were both great in their parts, it still seemed more of an acting exercise like, "ok, now play it as a gay man."

Sieber is best known by non-Broadway audiences as the father on the 1998 tv series Two of a Kind, where he played the father of the Olsen twins.   Since that tv show he has appeared in numerous Broadway productions and was twice nominated for a Tony Award, first for Spamalot in 2005 and in 2009 for Shrek the Musical.  Sieber actually made his New York debut when he played the part of the young "Jacob Marley" in the musical I was happy to be involved with back in 1994, A Christmas Carol.  For La Cage, he was actually a last minute replacement for the original "Georges" replacement, Jeffrey Tambor, who only played about two weeks worth of performances with Fierstein before deciding he wasn't psychically up to the challenge of doing the show 8 times a week.  This is the biggest part I've seen Sieber play on Broadway and I do believe this will give him a huge career boost.  My only quibble -Sieber is about 15 years younger than Fierstein in real life, though having seen him walking on the street, he looks even a few years younger than that.  He is made to look older than he really is by making his hair have some grey in it, and there is a line in the show that says that "Albin" is 10 years older than "Georges" - but it still is a little obvious just how much younger Sieber is.  But then I guess since he was a last minute replacement, and that he is so great in the role, that it is understandable if the age difference is a little more than it should be.   Also, Sieber and Fierstein really seem like a couple in love - something that you never quite completely got with Grammer and Hodge.

A. J. Shively

One other note about A. J. Shively, who has played "George's" son since the beginning of this revival- at that final performance for Grammer and Hodge he was almost in tears when he had his first scene with his "father" Grammer, and got chocked up during his song.  When he faltered, Grammer simply looked him straight in the face and took his arm, and then Shively continued on - exactly what a real father would do.  It was a very emotional and touching moment that showed the connection that Grammer had not only with Shively but with this revival.   I was happy that I saw even more of this connection with Shively and his two new "parents" - there were many touching parts with him and Sieber and the way that Fierstein looks at him, first with love through anger that eventually turns into pure motherly love, was actually heart breaking. 

Fierstein and O'Donnell
Fierstein himself made a splash as a Broadway replacement when in 2005 he took over for Alfred Molina as "Tevye" in the Broadway revial of Fiddler on the Roof.  I saw him twice in that production, first with Andrea Martin as his wife and second with Rosie O'Donnell.   He was fantastic in that part- something that a lot of Broadway insiders thought would be a stretch for him - a gay man playing a father of seven daughters.   He was so convincing in the part that the Tony committee talked about introducing a new award for a replacement cast member in a currently running show, something that was never thought of before.  Unfortunately the committee later decided to not go forward with this award category, if they had, Fierstein would surely have won it for his Fiddler and this year as well for his "Albin."   Fierstein even replaced Topol, who played "Tevye" in the recent 2009 National tour of Fiddler, when Topol was unable to continue on that tour, which was his "final" tour in the role, due to torn arm muscles.

So, if you missed this revival, or saw it already with Hodge and Grammer, I highly recommend a visit to the wacky, seedy but very loving nightclub of La Cage aux Folles.

- Chris Sieber and Harvey Fierstein

A. J. Shively and Wilson Jermaine Heredia -

Official show site

2010 Original Revival Cast with Hodge and Grammer - highlights -

George Hearn sings "I Am What I Am" -

Original Broadway cast Tony Awards Performance -

Amazon link for the cast recording with Hodge and Grammer - La Cage Aux Folles: New Broadway Cast Recording

Amazon link for the Original Broadway cast recording - La Cage Aux Folles: The Broadway Musical (1983 Original Broadway Cast)

Amazon link for the script of the show - La Cage Aux Folles

Amazon link for the dvd of the film La Cage aux Folles - La Cage Aux Folles

Amazon link for the dvd double feature of La Cage and The Birdcage - La Cage Aux Folles (1979) / The Birdcage (1996) (Double Take)

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