Wednesday, May 26, 2010

La Cage Aux Folles (The SOB Review)

La Cage Aux Folles (The SOB Review) - Longacre Theatre, New York, New York

***1/2 (out of ****)

Chalk my earliest appreciation for Jerry Herman's La Cage Aux Folles to a backyard conversation I had with my childhood next-door-neighbor Virginia Hug back in 1983. Mrs. Hug made routine visits to New York City to get her fix of Broadway shows.

After coming back to Mequon, Wisconsin, from seeing the original Tony-winning production, this meek and mild -- and traditional -- grandmother had nothing but raves to share. Never mind that Harvey Fierstein's book centered squarely on a family that was anything but traditional. Mrs. Hug was captivated by its universal themes of love's unbreakable bonds and was practically singing its joyous score for me. Sadly, I never had a chance to see that incarnation.

Fast forward to 1996 when I was absolutely repulsed by the film "The Birdcage" (based on the same source material ), which I detested for its stereotypical, self-loathing gay characters. I couldn't help but think, "I don't know any gay people like this." I remember leaving the movie theatre beside myself.

So when I finally saw the first Broadway revival of La Cage in 2004, I was bracing myself for the worst. Instead, I was swept away and cheering for Albin's declaration, "I am what I am." Even if it wasn't a perfect production, I liked it.

I love this La Cage Aux Folles even more. Revived with unmistakable sparkle, however tarnished, by director Terry Johnson, this downsized La Cage is what it is. It's a solid period piece populated with men who may dress in drag, but have more guts, ironically enough, in coming to terms with who they are than their less flamboyant counterparts.

While standing up to homophobia, Harvey Fierstein's book and Jerry Herman's glorious tunes get to the heart of how any relationship, gay or straight, endures. And as performed by Kelsey Grammer (Georges) and Douglas Hodge (Albin), it's not only deeply moving, it's practically heartbreaking. Hodge in particular scores with his defiant and scorching "I Am What I Am."

La Cage Aux Folles still may not be the perfect Broadway show -- the second act just doesn't measure up to the first -- but it may be the best version of the show you're ever likely to see anywhere. I only wish Mrs. Hug was still around to see it.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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At 27 May, 2010, Blogger Esther said...

How great that you had a Broadway-loving neighbor when you were growing up. How wonderful that La Cage touched her heart and yours. (And hopefully helped erase some of the memories of the movie. Ugh.) Hope I get to see it!

At 01 June, 2010, Blogger Sarah B. Roberts said...

It's one of my favorite movies - I guess I don't see them as stereotypical, just as that's just how these particular characters are. There are all kinds of people in the world after all.

I LOVE this production of La Cage. The first act tugged at my heart and Kelsey Grammer was perfection especially with "Song on the Sang". I loved "Look Over There" too. I liked Douglas Hodge, but it was Kelsey who made this production for me. And it was so fun that we were there on the same evening and didn't know it until seeing you at the stage door.

But then again, I loved the last revival of La Cage.

It all works for me.

At 05 June, 2010, Blogger Scott said...

I saw the original production in 1983, just two weeks after it opened. Wept all the way through (it was my first time in New York, my first time in a Broadway theater — and I'd just come out). Needless to say, I remember the show fondly.

Sounds like a worthy revival.

At 06 June, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my case the original french-italian movie in 1978 really touched my heart while I was simply a kid, then I discovered the song "I am what I am" and I just hope that soon I'll be able to enjoy the musical...

Best wishes from Spain.


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