Face Life With A Little Guts and Lots of Glitter: My Best of Times at La Cage aux Folles, Part 1 – Summer 2010

As it’s Valentine’s Day, love and romance are in the air, and I can find no better way to commemorate this holiday than to embark on a mini blog series about a (fairly) recent [musical] love of mine – the most recent Broadway revival of La Cage aux Folles, which ran at the Longacre Theatre in 2010 – 2011. My first introduction to this Jerry Herman score happened many years ago, in the midst of discovering Jerry Herman’s other scores (my introduction to the musicals of Jerry Herman came in the form of the film adaptation of Hello Dolly!). Having not been able to have seen the original Broadway production, I consistently listened to the original Broadway cast recording, hoping the show would be revived; as luck would have it, since then the musical had been revived not once, but twice in recent years.

La Cage marquee

The first Broadway revival ran from 2004 – 2005 at the Marquis Theatre, and the first production I had seen, which (I’m told) was as extravagant as the original production, in scale and scope (though it was pointed out that the set design and costumes were more contemporary than the original production). I saw that first revival twice, and while my overall memory of that production is a bit hazy, I do remember that Gary Beach was astounding as Albin, the headliner at the titular night club (under the stage name ZaZa), as was Daniel Davis as Georges, the night club owner and Albin’s life partner (by the time I saw the show a second time, the late Robert Goulet had replaced Davis as Georges, who was not as great I thought he would have been, though this was Goulet at the latter end of his long illustrious career, so I suppose my expectations were pretty high, having listened to his voice on the cast recording of Camelot). Sadly, there was no (official) cast recording made of that production (which is a shame).

Fast forward five years: when it was reported that the show was to be revived again in the spring of 2010, importing the scaled down London production and its star Douglas Hodge as Albin, with Kelsey Grammer making his Broadway musical debut as Georges. At first I was a bit perplexed as to why the show was being revived again, so soon after the previous revival, which wasn’t as successful a run as it should have been. It was after watching the show’s spectacular performance of “The Best of Times” at the Tony Awards (where the production won three Tonys) I saw that this production was quite different in tone than previous productions and that I needed to see this show.

[Disclaimer: Contrary to how it may appear, I don’t really go see that much theatre in any given calendar year. Nowadays, ticket prices have become increasingly expensive, even with TKTS offering up to 50% discounts – what the half price ticket amounts are these days used to be what the full price tickets were ten years ago. While I would love to see as much theatre as possible, I do my best to adhere to a few rules I set for myself, so that I don’t inadvertently bankrupt myself. Rarely do I ever pay full price for a single ticket if discount tickets can be obtained; exceptions to this “rule” are if: (a) a production is a limited run, (b) one of my favorite actors joins a production for a finite period, or (c) if the performance in question is a milestone event/special occasion – these are the times when paying full price is worth the value of the amount being charged. Having stated this, the bulk of my theater-going happens in autumn, when I usually obtain a multitude of complementary tickets via the TDF Raffle Table at the annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) Flea Market and Grand Auction – rarely do I see shows during the rest of the year, unless the aforementioned exceptions apply. As it will become evident in this blog (and the subsequent three blogs), my experience with La Cage breaks all these rules. I regret nothing.

Also, there will undoubtedly be some minor (and major) fan-girly moments throughout this mini blog series, mostly focused on Douglas Hodge, as well as for the rest of the cast, who are among the most talented and genial group of actors I’ve had the privilege to meet.]

So my first trip to the Longacre Theatre was on June 27, 2010, the Sunday matinee two weeks after the Tony Awards, and my first opportunity to see the show. I waited on the TKTS line to obtain my ticket, and headed to the theatre – one of the first things I see as I approach the Longacre (aside from the marquee) were the small disco balls on the theatre overhang and the pink light bulbs that lined the overhang, introducing the night club ambiance quite well. In keeping with the night club atmosphere was the employment of a door girl to greet theatergoers as they arrived, and to warm up the crowd before the show – there were two such door girls, Lili Whiteass and Fifi (swings Todd Lattimore and Christophe Caballero, respectively), both of whom took great pride in and had lots of fun with their warm up acts. Though I didn’t get to meet Lili until the autumn [my actual first encounter with her was at the BC/EFA Flea Market & Auction] and Fifi until the winter (as the times I had gone to see the show, both actors were in the show subbing for vacationing cast members, and therefore would not be out front pulling double duty), when I finally get a chance to see them in action (so to speak), both had their unique way of warming up the crowd: Lili would query the audience if there were anyone celebrating a birthday or an anniversary, and was always quick with a biting quip or loving insult; Fifi would do the same, then proceed to teach the audience a few choice (innuendo-laden) French phrases – these bits would precede the usual pre-show disclaimer about not using recording devices, and turning off cell phones.

This ambiance was further evident upon entering the theater itself, from the lobby’s pink carpet and pink-lit chandeliers to the large Andy Warhol inspired portraits of Douglas Hodge and Kelsey Grammer as their respective characters. The Longacre is perhaps one of the smaller theater houses, and was set up to look like a drag night club in San Tropez, complete with four cabaret tables, each table seating four people, situated right in front of the stage. The cabaret seats were at the top premium price, and having sat at those tables (several times), I can attest that it was well worth the price – throughout the show, the cast interact frequently with those seated at the cabaret tables, further enhancing the illusion that the theater space was indeed an extension of the club. The set design and much of the costume design was detailed and astounding, yet less glamorous than in previous productions, adding a bit of realism to the production; the choreography was amazing, especially from the sextet of Cagelles, who started off the show with the exuberant “We Are What We Are”, complete with tossing out beach balls into the audience – it was always fun to see how responsive (or not) any given audience is during this portion of the show: oftentimes those in the front center orchestra section would keep the beach balls in the air, sending it to either side of the audience section; sometimes the beach ball would sail back onstage, while the Cagelles continued with their choreography, wherein they would punch it right back out [though there were rare times when the beach ball would hit one of the Cagelles]. Eventually the beach balls would land either in the aisles or onstage where they would be collected by stealthy stage hands. [There were a few times when the beach balls would reach the mezzanine section or even briefly touch the theatre’s chandelier before making its descent.]

The Andy WArhol inspired portraits of ZaZa and Georges

The Andy Warhol inspired portraits of ZaZa and Georges

 The entire cast was amazing from the Cagelles to the leads, each cast member having their moments to shine – it wasn’t long before I became swept up with the talent and sheer joy they exuded on stage at every performance. The initial sextet of Cagelles consisted of Nick Adams, Nicholas Cunningham, Sean Patrick Doyle, Yurel Echezarreta, Logan Keslar and Terry Lavell, each of whom gave their character their own unique personality and danced with such grace and style (and all looked fabulous as women). Robin de Jesus was outright hilarious as Jacob, the butler/maid who longed to be a Cagelle, sassy and quick with a quip for every situation. Fred Applegate and Veanne Cox were spot on as the villainous yet mostly harmless Dindons, playing their parts with austerity, a great contrast to the color characters around them (though they do get their chance have fun in the finale). In his musical debut, Kelsey Grammer was fantastic, with a great singing voice, showing a remarkable range from charming compère to concerned father, and was a counterpoint for Douglas Hodge’s high-strung and emotional Albin/ZaZa.

As I’ve stated in previous blogs, I’ve become quite enamored with the sheer awesomeness that is Douglas Hodge, but I will have to confess that prior to this production I did not know much about him, as the bulk of his stage career (as well his occasional forays into film and television) was primarily in his native England. I will also need to confess that I became acutely obsessed with him and his performance and sought to learn more about his career; having discovered that he was also a singer/songwriter, and had recorded two albums, Cowley Road Songs and Night Bus (both of which I promptly bought via iTunes), I recall being surprised to hear how different his voice was compared to the voice I had heard during the show. His interpretation on the role of Albin/ZaZa was truly inspired, using his knack for spot-on impressions and his comedic timing to bring to the forefront the insecurities Albin has about himself, so throughout the show, his speaking and singing voice is not his own, and it is only at the very end of the show, with the reprise of “Song on the Sand” when Albin tackles his self-doubt, when Doug’s own voice comes through, sweet and lyrical.

Cast List, Summer 2010

Cast List, Summer 2010

The stage door experience was amazing, as always, and it was really during my (nearly) year-long fixation with La Cage that I started to actively stage door after every performance, and also to start conversing with fellow fans waiting at the stage door, and with the actors themselves [I’m quite introverted and tend not to say much aside from thanking the actors for signing my playbill, and occasionally asking for photos with the cast]. It is also with La Cage where I became good friends with those waiting at the stage door (and later on, with most of the cast). The entire cast was cheerful as they signed playbills and posed for photos, chatting with those waiting, and was as vibrant and witty off stage as they were on stage.

At the stage door, Summer 2010 - clockwise from top left: Douglas Hodge, Kelsey Grammer, Veanne Cox & Fred Applegate
At the stage door, Summer 2010 – clockwise from top left: Douglas Hodge, Kelsey Grammer, Veanne Cox & Fred Applegate

My adventures with La Cage didn’t just consist of my constant repeat viewing of the show, I did make a point of going to just about every theater event where the cast would be appearing or performing. The first of these I was able to attend was Broadway in Bryant Park on August 12th, which (as mentioned in previous blogs) is a (free) lunchtime summer concert. As my wont, I made a point to be at Bryant Park at my usual time (hours before the event start time) to ensure my usual spot as close to the stage as possible, and I recall it was a cool but rainy day. The other shows that performed that afternoon were Mamma Mia!, West Side Story, American Idiot and Mary Poppins, so there was quite a crowd by the time the concert started. At that time of the Broadway in Bryant Park concert, the La Cage cast recording had not yet been released (the release date was September 28, 2010), so there was a small band onstage to provide musical accompaniment. Representing the La Cage cast was Sean Carmon, Todd Lattimore, Logan Keslar, Yurel Echezarreta, Nicholas Cunningham and Terry Lavell singing “We Are What We Are” (and gleefully tossing out the beach balls out into the audience, one of which hit me, a necessary hazard when sitting up front), and Dale Hensley and Chris Hoch (the understudies for Douglas Hodge and Kelsey Grammer, respectively) singing “With You On My Arm” and the entire cast singing “The Best of Times”.

La Cage at Bryant Park: From top to bottom - "We Are What We Are", "With You On My Arm" & "The Best of Times"

La Cage at Bryant Park: From top to bottom – “We Are What We Are”, “With You On My Arm” & “The Best of Times”

My acute fixation with La Cage continued throughout the summer, spending many a summer afternoon at the Longacre Theater (after all, there’s no better place to be on a hot summer afternoon than in a super air-conditioned theater), and with its uplifting score, fantastic cast and story of unconditional love above all else, the show quickly became a remedy for whenever I felt overwhelmed with the stress that comes from every day life. I would always feel better after seeing La Cage, though my cheeks and belly would be a bit sore from all the smiling and laughing that occurred during the show, and I do believe that this is the reason why I now have smile lines around my mouth (for once, lines I don’t really mind having).

Again, as stated at the start of this blog, this is only part one of a four-part mini-blog series, covering each season during which I saw the show. The next installment will cover the autumn months, and will include events such as appearances at the Broadway on Broadway concert, the BC/EFA Flea Market & Auction, the release of the cast recording, and the requisite CD signings, as well more of my adventures at the stage door.

To be continued…