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'La Cage aux Folles' revival triumphs

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP   |   Jan. 3, 2005 at 12:15 AM   |   Comments

NEW YORK, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The genius of Broadway musical comedy composer-lyricist Jerry Herman for creating heartwarming entertainment is everywhere evident in the lavish Broadway revival of "La Cage aux Folles" that has every prospect of running for years to come.

First produced in 1983, the show with a book by Harvey Fierstein based on a play by Jean Poiret and a 1978 French-Italian movie version of it deals positively with a homosexual "marriage" on the French Riviera long before such unions were the hot political topic they are today. It was a Broadway hit, due in part to its shock value, and won a Tony Award for Best Musical, only to sink into oblivion with the onset of the AIDS pandemic.

A 1996 Hollywood update of the movie, reset in Miami Beach, Fla. ("Bird Cage"), revived interest in Herman's musical and led eventually to its revival at the Marquis Theater under the astute guidance of visionary director Jerry Zaks. It stars two veteran actors, Gary Beach as flamboyant nightclub drag queen, Albin, and Daniel Davis, as the St. Tropez club's proprietor, Georges.

It is casting made in heaven, and any comparison of the performances of Beach and Davis to that of their movie and stage predecessors in the roles of the queer but lovable couple would be truly odious. And the timing of the show couldn't me more fortuitous, since "La Cage" will fill the vacuum left by the closing of the long-run Broadway revival of "42nd Street" next month.

This is an extravaganza in the best Broadway tradition with a high-kicking male chorus in drag called the Cagelles, flashy choreography, outrageously sexy costumes that don't stint on feathers and spangles, sumptuous sets, and those catchy Herman songs. You'll leave the theater humming "The Best of Times" and it will stay with you for days.

There is also the memorable gay anthem, "I Am What I Am," powerfully, even angrily, sung by Beach. It is probably the most effective closing number for the first act of a musical ever written. Other catchy numbers include the title number, "La Cage aux Folles," "With You on My Arm," "Song on the Sand" and "Look Over There."

The plot turns on the efforts of Georges' son, Jean-Michel (Gavin Creel), the offspring of an indiscretion some 20 years before, to keep his fiancée, Anne (Angela Gaylor), from meeting Albin, the man who has raised him as his mother. Anne has the misfortune of being the daughter of a French deputy, Edouard Dindon, who is head of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party.

When Dindon (Michael Mulheren) and his wife (Linda Balgord) arrive at Georges's apartment next to the La Cage aux Folles Club, and Jean Michel's real mother fails to show up to meet the them, Albin takes over the maternal role with a vengeance. He is so believable in his female impersonation and matronly but fashionable drag, that the Dindons are charmed.

All hell breaks loose when the paparazzi get wind of Dindon's presence in what he would normally consider a den of iniquity, and an escape through the club with Dindon in ridiculous drag is the only way to escape without being recognized. It's about as funny as a ridiculous situation can get and touching, too, when Albin forgives Georges and Jean-Michel for trying to disown him.

Creel is believable and dislikable as a pony-tailed young man torn between his love for Albin and his determination to win the Dindon's blessing on his marriage to Anne, delightfully played by Gaylor as an adorable innocent. Mulheren is suitably unpleasant as the homophobe legislator and Balgord plays his confused wife to perfection.

Scott Pask's richly detailed sets depicting Georges and Albin's flamboyant apartment, a St. Tropez café, the La Cage club, and several other venues and William Ivey Long's sensational costumes are of award-winning quality, and Donald Holder's lighting effects are exquisite. Jerry Mitchell's choreography has the energy and humor of the opulent burlesques that are endangered species all over the world today except in Paris.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

Topics: Jerry Herman
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