In this the final installment of my (ten month) fixation with this production, another change in season brought new cast members to the production – Harvey Fierstein, Jeffrey Tambor, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, and Mike McShane, to replace (respectively) Douglas Hodge, Kelsey Grammer, Robin de Jesus and Fred Applegate. Cast changes are inevitable, and new actors often bring their own take on the roles while maintaining the status quo of the overall tone of the show. There was a minor kerfuffle with the new cast members, as Jeffrey Tambor, departed after a handful of performances due to his poor performance, with Christopher Sieber coming to the rescue to assume the role of Georges. As I was quite distressed at the departure of the aforementioned cast members (mostly detailed in the previous installment), I took a (very) brief hiatus in my “La-Caging” to recover, so I can’t comment on the quality of Tambor’s performance (as I didn’t see it myself), but friends of mine who did see it confirmed that he was ill-suited for the role. At the time, I thought it was an odd choice to cast Tambor, who (to my knowledge) had no previous musical theatre credits – a fair amount of marketing was sunk into his casting (billboard ads, commercials, etc.) and to have him (essentially) be a dud in the role was a shame. I’m sure someone thought it was a good idea.
Also unique among the replacement cast was the fact that Harvey Fierstein (who wrote the book for La Cage) was stepping onstage to inhabit the role of Albin/ZaZa. While it was not the first time a writer assumed a role in the show in which he/she had a part in creating, it was certainly an interesting prospect, as Harvey Feinstein has a very distinctive, raspy voice – to be totally candid, I was wary at hearing his voice sing this iconic Jerry Herman score. I need not have worried – I returned to seeing the show after Tambor left but before Sieber assumed the role [in the interim, understudy Chris Hoch went on] – Harvey’s take on the role, while different from Doug’s, was fantastic, and his singing voice got better as the weeks went by. Wilson Jermaine Heredia, perhaps best known for his award-winning performance as Angel in Rent had a different interpretation of Jacob, infusing a more urban vibe to the role than the strictly comic spin previously used. The show as a whole remained the same heartfelt and hilarious show it’s always been, with subtle changes to accommodate the rhythms and sensibilities of the incoming cast.
Yet all good things do come to an end, as May 1st was announced as the closing date. Once again, I planned to attend all three of the final weekend performances, coordinating with a group of friends I had met while waiting at the stage door – the “Cagettes”. I’m grateful to have made such great friends through this show. At this point, most of Longacre staff recognized me, from the stage door security guard to the house manager (though not so much the box office staff, as I still obtained my tickets mainly though TKTS). This worked in my favor near the end of the run – I had purchased a mid-orchestra seat via TKTS and as I entered the theater, the house manager looked at my ticket then asked if I was here on my own, to which I responded affirmatively; and thus my seat was upgraded to one of the cabaret seats (which I presumed was unsold, and they wanted to ensure that all the cabaret seats were occupied).
Onward to the second weekend extravaganza of “La Caging” – sat in the left side box seats for the first time, a unique vantage point (as you can see into the wings from that angle) for the matinee performance, then the first row orchestra center for the evening performance. I do believe I’ve sat and seen the show from just about every section of the Longacre, including being seated at each cabaret table – there are four separate tables – at least once. As mentioned in previous entries, I got to know the ensemble quite well, having recognized me at the stage door, so there were occasional winks and acknowledgements from them, especially the Cagelles during the “La Cage aux Folles” number, where they interact with those seated in the cabaret tables and (sometimes those seated in the front row orchestra). It’s always fun waiting at the stage door to greet the cast and chat with them (as well as collecting signed playbills and photos with the cast) – there’s a camaraderie and genuine appreciation from the cast when they saw me (usually standing in my “usual” spot) outside the stage door. In between the final two show day, Lili quite randomly spotted a white stretch limo with a wedding party inside and immediately started to interact with them – even stepping into the limo to sip some wine. It’s always entertaining to watch Lili (Todd Lattimore) improvise with the people gathered outside the Longacre, whether they are theatergoers or just passersby.
The final performance was another emotional roller coaster, with smatterings of applause and laughter, and an unexpected turn of events, with swing Christophe Caballero going on as Jacob, as Wilson Jermaine Heredia was stuck in traffic somewhere en route and was unable to reach the theater in time. During my (roughly) ten month stint watching La Cage, it’s safe to say that I’ve seen Christophe perform in the most different roles during the run, and had seen understudies go on for all the roles, except for one – for all the performances I attended, Terry Lavell was always at each of those performances (I believe he only missed one performance during the little-over-a-year run). I sat at the cabaret table for the final performance, and during Lili’s usual pre-show banter, she thanked the house management, ushers and gave special shout outs to the Cagettes in the audience. After the curtain call, there were the usual speeches and outpouring of flowers for the cast and a rousing, heartfelt final reprise of “The Best of Times”. The stage door was crowded with audience members wanting to thank and greet the cast as they exited for the last time from the stage door. There was joy and gratitude from all those gathered outside the Longacre, and delight and hugs from the cast when they spotted me. It was an overwhelming experience; one I wished would never end.
Needless to say, this production of La Cage aux Folles made a profound impact in my theatre-going life – the first time I acutely fixated on a musical over such a short period of time. In the succeeding years, I’ve had time to contemplate why I kept on going to see this particular musical (as opposed to the various other musicals and plays I saw before and since this production): the Jerry Herman score is uplifting and heartfelt, and leaves you in a good mood (as most all Jerry Herman scores do), the story is about love, family and being (and staying true) to yourself; and of course this cast was extraordinary, exuberant and exuded joy with every note sung and every step taken. I’ve also met and made the most amazing friends through this fantastic show.
I certainly had the Best of Times at La Cage aux Folles.