Something About Sharing, Something About Always: My Best of Times at La Cage aux Folles, Part 4

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.

replacement cast ad

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.

Replacement 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).

cast list_final

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.

Lili Spring 2011

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.

final stage door

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.

all signed playbills

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A Combination That Works Like a Charm: My Best of Times at La Cage aux Folles, Part 3

So, I started this blog (mini) series about my experiences with the 2010-2011 revival of La Cage aux Folles nearly two years ago, (so sorry for the delay in posting!) chronicling my impressions and experiences with this fabulous production of this joyous musical, and through this show I’ve met many great friends at the stage door, and have become acquainted with a talented bunch of actors/dancers [I would not presume to state that I am really friends (in the truest sense of the word) with some of the actors I’ve met at the stage door, as I would not include myself in their private, off-stage life – there’s a fine line between being a fan and being friends with them – at best, I would think I am a good acquaintance, at least I hope so.] That being said, eventually after all the times I waited at the stage door, being noticed and acknowledged by name (earning the endearing moniker “Miss Jen”), I eventually mentioned the possibility of a backstage tour – the topic first brought up sometime in September – someone (I don’t recall who) when learning of my consistent visits to the stage door after every show (always managing to secure the same spot) mentioned that such devotion should earn me a backstage tour. Luckily, Matt Anctil heard this remark and gladly offered to show me (and whoever else wanted to come along) around backstage, which was an extremely sweet gesture.

La Cage marquee_night

As fall turned into winter, and as the weather turned colder (with intermittent bursts of snow, though nothing like the consistent snowfall endured this winter 2015), my quasi-regular visits to the Longacre continued, mainly obtaining my tickets via the TKTS booth, though I did splurge (a few times) on the premium cabaret seating. It was also during this time I took up Matt’s kind gesture and arranged for a backstage tour of the set, which I had done twice, the only times I did not stage door after the show – yes, even in the cold, snowy weather, I patiently waited at the stage door. It was fascinating to see all the props, costumes and sets up close, as well as stand on the stage to see the vantage point the cast see during every performance, though it is quite awe-inspiring to be standing on a Broadway stage at all. While the cabaret seating (briefly mentioned in previous posts) was at the top premium price ($250), it was well worth it. As the setting for La Cage is at a night club in San Tropez, naturally cabaret tables were situated near the stage, with ample opportunity for the cast to interact with those few audience members at various points in the show, resulting in a very unique experience, especially during the titular song.

A view of the cabaret seats from the stage

A view of the cabaret seats from the stage

Along with the change in season, there was a significant change in cast, as it was announced that Douglas Hodge, Kelsey Grammer, Robin De Jesus and Fred Applegate would play their final performance on February 13th (which fell on a Sunday). Naturally, I planned on attending not only their final performance, but (in a quasi mad, impulsive move) also both the Saturday matinee and evening performances – a triple play, so to speak. Anyway, it was one of the rare(ish) times I bought tickets in advance (as I usually buy tickets at TKTS) – luckily I was able to purchase a cabaret seat for their final performance roughly a month prior. More specifically, bought [without any hesitation] during intermission when I attended the show on my birthday. At this point of my “La Caging” (as my co-workers took to calling my frequent visits to the Longacre), I’d taken to seeing the show (almost) every weekend, often inviting friends to join me (if only to “explain” my acute fixation with the show and its fabulously talented cast). More times than not, we would arrive at the theatre early to meet Lili Whiteass (Todd Lattimore) and marvel at her pre-show couture, which was different (and usually weather-appropriate). It was always a joy to see Lili out there, spreading her own unique brand of hilarity to unsuspecting theatergoers.

Lili Winter 2010-2011

[Brief interlude: The Monday before his final performance weekend, Doug played a gig at the famed Birdland jazz club, performing most of his own songs, and covering others. Alongside being a fantastic actor, he also writes his own songs (two of this albums are available on iTunes), plays the guitar and piano. A few of the La Cage cast members also attended the performance and when they spotted me, inquired whether or not I’d still see the show once Doug and Kelsey left, to which I reassured that I would most certainly continue my frequent visits to the Longacre. Even on their designated night off, it was lovely to see them supporting their fellow cast member in his own independent endeavor.]

Back to (the first of) my weekend extravaganza of “La Caging” – I arrive at the Longacre early (by now I’m pretty adept at figuring out almost exactly when and from which direction most of the cast arrive) and happily greet the handful of cast members I see, letting them know I’d be attending the entire weekend of performances. Roughly about an hour and a half before show time, Doug arrives in an SUV and upon seeing me loitering waiting outside the stage door, greets me with a sweet “Hello, dahling”, (at which I internally giggled), then starts to unload boxes from the trunk – gifts for the cast. Naturally I offer to help carry some of the boxes to the stage door, to which he declined though he thanked me for offering. Later on, as theatergoers started to gather outside, another car pulls up to the stage door and Kelsey Grammer steps out of the car. Of course, there’s a buzz of excitement from those waiting in line near the stage door area – after all, Kelsey is best known for his role as the titular character in Frasier. Many of them attempt to attract his attention in the short distance from the car to the stage door entrance, of which he disregards (as he’s arrived at the theatre 30 minutes before show time, which is the latest an actor can arrive); however when he spies me loitering waiting by the stage door, he pauses to greet me (and pats my arm) then proceeds through the stage door. I barely noticed the looks of wonderment from those aforementioned people.

cast list_winter

The show was amazing, as always and I stood in my customary spot at the stage door, amid the usual throng of fans, and spotted some famous faces entering and exiting the stage door (among them, Alan Cumming, Jerry Stiller and Lin-Manuel Miranda). In the intervening hours in between the matinee and evening performance, I wandered about quasi-aimlessly then made my way to a nearby Thai restaurant, where I met three of my out-of-town friends for dinner before heading back to the Longacre to “introduce” Lili to my friends. Another fantastic performance, with thunderous applause and laughter throughout, and once more I sped to “my spot” at the stage door, with my friends in tow. As my “spot” at the stage door is on the left side closest to the door, I’m among the first bunch of people the cast see upon exiting, and it’s great to see them all, chat with them a bit and generally have loads of fun whilst signing playbills and such.

Clockwise from top left: Douglas Hodge, Kelsey Grammer, Terry Lavell & Nick Cunningham

Clockwise from top left: Douglas Hodge, Kelsey Grammer, Terry Lavell & Nick Cunningham

Onward to Sunday: as it was Doug and Kelsey’s final performance, I (quasi-impulsively) decided to buy them both a bouquet of roses (red tipped yellow for Doug, blue for Kelsey) – it was also a pricy purchase, as their final performance was the day before Valentine’s Day, but nevertheless it was a splurge worth taking. A good number of “Cagettes” (the affectionate name suggested by Matt for those few who consistently see the show and wait at the stage door) attended, some travelling from all parts of the world, to be at this performance. As customary for any actor’s final performance, their entrance garnered massive applause, cheering and standing ovations. After the overture, Kelsey is the first to come out, and not surprisingly, the house rose to their feet with applause and cheers, which moved him to tears, stopping the show for a few minutes in order for him to collect himself to continue. When it came time for Doug to enter the stage, another eruption of applause and cheers arose, though the ovations started before he actually stepped onto the stage (as his first lines are delivered off stage before entering to the usual applause). Once he did walk on to the stage, the applause was deafening, and moved him (and the audience) to tears, effectively stopping the show again. The show proceeded as it usually did, with the usual level of applause and laughter, until “With Anne on My Arm” when a teary-eyed A. J. Shively (Jean-Michel) was overcome with emotion as the song winded down, at which point the show paused for a few minutes again. There was a wealth of added emotion throughout the show, which happens during cast members’ final performance, and I find it astounding how they can (usually) keep their personal emotions in check while remaining in character.

Every song, every comedic zinger met with great applause and laughter, and the standing ovation for Doug’s final “I Am What I Am” surely shook the building. The next poignant moment during their final performance came (appropriately) during “The Best of Times”, a song that stated that “the best of times is now” – many of the cast onstage were moved to tears at the sentiment the song held. During the section when Doug serenades a part of the song to the (lucky) audience member sitting at the right side cabaret table (which always happens), one of the Twins (I don’t recall their names, but they’re frequent attendees) handed him a white rose and both embraced him (which [obviously] doesn’t always happen), which brought about a fresh batch of tears. How Doug was able to get through the rest of the song (and show, for that matter) is beyond me.

The final curtain call was another emotional experience, with the aforementioned twins tossing the remaining white roses onto the stage after the encore of “The Best of Times”, followed by Lili handing Doug and Kelsey bouquets of flowers. I was unable to obtain permission to approach the stage to hand them my roses, though I was able to relay them to Matt Anctil, who promised to hand them over to them. Though as a fairly good trade-off, I managed to take this rather candid (and utterly adorable) photo:

Doug final curtain call

A line of press photographers gathered near the front of the stage to capture Doug and Kelsey’s final speeches, wherein both expressed their gratitude and joy of having been in such a remarkable show about love, and the friendships they’ve made with the cast. The stage door experience was hectic and equally emotional, as everyone wanted to show their appreciation for the departing cast members – many of those who waited at the stage door came with gifts for them. I was teary-eyed throughout the show and afterwards; this emotional state was immediately heightened when Doug approached where I was waiting (this time I wasn’t at my usual “spot”), thanked me for the roses and gave me a bear hug when I managed to tell him that I’d miss him in the show. Much of the rest of the night was a blur, as I eventually left the Longacre both elated and saddened. Nevertheless, that performance was among the most emotional and heartfelt experiences I’ve had the privilege to attend.

The next (and final) installment will cover the arrival of replacement cast (and the brouhaha it caused), along with the second weekend extravaganza – the final three performances.

Finale roses on stage

First Impressions: Thoughts on First Date – October 3, 2013

Going on a blind date can be a frightening endeavor, fraught with doubts, misconceptions and the dread that the evening will turn out to be a disastrous waste of time. The same can be said about going to see a musical “blind”, that is, walking into a theater without knowing too much about the story or the score. Given the extravagant cost of theater tickets nowadays, I rarely go see a new musical (or play for that matter) without knowing at least something about the plot or (in the case of musicals) listening to the cast recording (if one exists). Of course, that “rule” is (somewhat) waived when said new musical is among the tickets obtained via the TDF ticket raffle table at the BC/EFA Flea Market & Auction, which resulted in my own “blind date” with First Date,  a new, original musical currently playing at the Longacre Theater.

First Date marquee

I will admit, as I sat in the balcony of the Longacre (a theater I visited frequently when La Cage aux Folles was playing there a few years back) I had preconceived notions about the show I was about to see. This was a new musical written by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, who are (at least to my knowledge) Broadway newcomers themselves, and the show was about the first (blind) date of Aaron and Casey, unfolding in real-time. My expectations were not really that high, figuring that the show would be rife with sexual innuendo, cultural stereotypes, and cliché jokes typically found in sitcoms revolving around dating singles. I was therefore pleasantly surprised that I thoroughly enjoyed First Date – while the aforementioned moments of sexual innuendo, cultural stereotypes and cliché jokes were present, there were also moments of sincerity and poignancy at the latter half of the ninety minute musical that left me (literally) wiping tears from my eyes.

I was not expecting that.

I was not expecting to feel such an emotional response to characters that at first glance seemed to be stock characters from a typical sitcom – the insecure, dorky guy who consistently says the wrong things and the independent, flirtatious girl who can’t seem to dislodge the chip on her shoulder. It’s clear from the start that both bring their own baggage to the restaurant where they have agreed to meet – the quintet of actors (Sara Chase, Kristoffer Cusick, Blake Hammond, Kate Loprest and Bryce Ryness) that round out the cast intermittently give voice to specters of their past – both real and imaginary – and provide exposition and introspection for the pair. These inner voices (expertly distinguished from the events happening in real-time by the stark sudden change in lighting, and noticeable additions to their costumes) included meddling best friends, concerned relatives and troublesome exes, all of whom attempt to provide guidance to Aaron and Casey throughout the evening. The show does end on a hopeful note (which I had anticipated), with the inner voices silenced, as each finds peace with their past and overcomes the perceived obstacles that had hindered them from taking a chance on romance.

First Date Cast list

The score was great, with a mix of genres and lyrics both moving and hilarious in showcasing the joys and woes of dating and relationships. The lighting and set design were done well, with events happening in real-time bathed in “normal” white light, while the interludes were accented in various colors. The fourth wall was broken at times as the two leads stopped the action to address the audience with their own inner monologue. As the central couple in question, Zachary Levi (Aaron) and Krysta Rodriguez (Casey), both best known for respectively starring in the TV shows “Chuck” and “Smash”, were fantastic and inhabited their roles comfortably and sang amazingly. Another standout performance came from Blake Hammond as the restaurant waiter who doled out advice to the blind date couple, and even has his own moment to shine with a solo song extolling the joys of love – he nearly stole the show (and I told him so at the stage door).

The stage door experience was one of the best ones I’ve had in a long while – there were metal barricades surrounding all three sides of the stage door, and we were instructed by the stage door security guy (whose name I did not learn) to stand at the front and right side of the barricades, leaving the left side completely empty. At first I thought that odd, as my “usual” stage door waiting spot at the Longacre (from all my times going to see La Cage) was on the left side, but it wasn’t long before the reason for leaving that space empty was revealed. The same stage door security guy explained that Krysta Rodriguez would sign everyone’s playbills and pose for photos for those who asked, Zachary Levi would not only sign everyone’s playbills, he would also stand by the empty side of the metal barricades and pose for photos with everyone – so each and every person who waited at the stage door got to have a few moments with him as their photo was taken. I have never heard of an actor doing this, especially one who is a well-known television actor – this was an extraordinarily generous and sweet thing to do. He also brought out a mini boom box which played Michael Jackson songs, which added to the party atmosphere.

First Date stage door

All in all, First Date exceeded my expectations and proved to be a fun evening watching an evening on stage unfold with a healthy dose of hilarity, a dash of heart and a hint of romance. I do recommend seeing this show, as it is an original story not based on a specific existing source material (a rare occurrence on Broadway these days) that has a catchy score and a fantastic cast. While my first impression of this show (prior to seeing it) was not too favorable, as the song “First Impression” says “first impressions are worth a second glance”.

First Date signed playbill

A Rare Combination of Girlish Excitement and Manly Restraint: My Best of Times at La Cage aux Folles, Part 2 – Autumn 2010

In this the second installment of my mini-blog series about La Cage aux Folles, the change from Summer to Autumn brought about some changes to the cast, with the departure of Nick Adams (who went on to star in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, an equally fantastic show that will be discussed in a future blog) and Veanne Cox and the arrival of Matt Anctil and Allyce Beasley, who brought their own unique style to the characters. Autumn is also when the new Broadway season traditionally starts, kicked off with the Broadway on Broadway concert and the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) Flea Market and Grand Auction.

Cast List, Autumn 2010

Cast List, Autumn 2010

For those who don’t know, Broadway on Broadway is a free concert that takes place mid-September in the heart of Times Square, where a multitude of shows, both current and upcoming perform a song or a medley of songs. It is the only other event when traffic is cordoned off for several blocks for a specific period of time to allow a multitude of people to gather (the other time, of course is on New Year’s Eve) and just like New Year’s Eve, many hardcore theater fans camp out hours beforehand (some stay in Times Square overnight) to secure a prime viewing spot. While I am an ardent theatergoer, I’m not *that* dedicated to wait overnight in Times Square, though I do know friends who do, and I usually find them early in the morning and meet up with them then. The concert formally started around noon, with sound check starting roughly an hour beforehand.

Kelsey Grammer was the host of the 2010 Broadway on Broadway concert, which featured performances from the nearly all the shows that were running at the time: some that have since closed (Million Dollar Quartet, Promises, Promises, Billy Elliot, In the Heights, Memphis, Fela!, Addams Family, Elf,, Next To Normal, American Idiot, West Side Story and Rain), others that are still running (The Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Mamma Mia!, Wicked and Rock of Ages) Representing La Cage (aside from Kelsey Grammer hosting) were the Cagelles – Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Nicholas Cunningham, Yurel Echezarreta, Sean Patrick Doyle and Terry Lavell –  singing “We Are What We Are” to an appreciative audience.

Cagelles (from left to right): Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Nicholas Cunningham,Yurel Echezarreta, Sean Patrick Doyle and Terry Lavell

Cagelles (from left to right): Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Nicholas Cunningham, Yurel Echezarreta, Sean Patrick Doyle and Terry Lavell

As I had in the summer, I was once again a quasi-regular visitor to the Longacre Theater, which included sitting in the expensive-but-worth-it cabaret seats, seats in the front orchestra, as well as in the balcony. I do believe I must have sat in every section at the Longacre, and I will attest that there is not a bad seat in that house. It was also in the fall I had the opportunity to see the understudies go on and bring their own spin to the roles they were covering; most notably it was during the fall I got the chance to see Chris Hoch, who understudied for both Albin and Georges (in addition to his regular role as Francis, the put-upon stage manager at the club), as Albin and Georges on two separate occasions [at which time, the role of Francis was played with great gusto by Dale Hensley] – he played both roles expertly, though I did prefer his take as Georges over his go as Albin (though of course this basis stems from the fact that I adore Douglas Hodge as Albin).

Clockwise from top left: Matt Anctil, Allyce Beasley, Kelsey Grammer & Douglas Hodge

Clockwise from top left: Matt Anctil, Allyce Beasley, Kelsey Grammer & Douglas Hodge

The next big Broadway event of the fall was the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS [BC/EFA] Flea Market and Grand Auction [henceforth called “the Auction”], or (as many of my theater-obsessed friends call the event), “Broadway Christmas”. I tend to think of that day, which usually falls on the last Sunday in September, as Broadway Heaven on Earth Day – a day when one can find and buy prop and costume pieces (often autographed), old playbills and posters from shows present and past, CDs and other odds and ends; there is also the Grand Auction, where once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as walk-on roles, tickets and passes to opening night performances, and rare one-of-a-kind items are auctioned to the highest bidder. As avid a theater fan as I am, most of those lots are well out of my price range, and I never stick around to watch the Grand Auction; more times than not, my focus at the Auction is the TDF Raffle table (which I have mentioned several times in previous blogs). In the decade I have been attending the Auction, I have been remarkably lucky in winning tickets (each winning ticket yields a pair of complementary tickets, often orchestra seats, to currently running Broadway and off-Broadway shows), though as lucky as I usually am, I did not win any La Cage tickets, which limited my amounts of times going to see the shows [as I essentially had “free” tickets to others shows in the fall. Nevertheless, I did attend see La Cage many times as I could, usually obtaining my tickets at TKTS.

It was also at the Auction where I formally (and finally) met “Lili Whiteass” (aka swing Todd Lattimore) – the sassy door girl greeting (and playfully insulting) theatergoers as they arrived at the Longacre, then warming up the audience with a hilarious pre show act. I had not seen her until then due to the fact that during the times I had seen the show in the summer, Todd was often in the show, filling in for Nick Cunningham as Hannah, one of the Cagelles, and would be unable to go on as Lili Whiteass. Thankfully, throughout the fall, winter and spring I was able to see and chat with Lili on a semi-regular basis.

Lili Whiteass, Autumn 2010

Lili Whiteass, Autumn 2010

It was inevitable that there would be an official cast recording for La Cage, and with the release of the cast recording comes the obligatory CD signing at Barnes & Noble, which happened on October 14th at the [now closed] store near Lincoln Center. As per my usual tactic, I got there early and settled myself to be first in line – in addition to the CD signing, there would be a question and answer session with Douglas Hodge and Kelsey Grammer (questions that were submitted by those attending the signing), and a performance by the Cagelles – the lineup this instance consisted of Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Yurel Echezarreta, Sean Patrick Doyle and Terry Lavell. As an added bonus, there was a special guest appearance from Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book for La Cage; it was during the question and answer session wherein he announced his involvement in Newsies and Kinky Boots, both musicals that are currently running on Broadway (as one of the questions directed at him asked what his next projects were to be).

Doug & Kelsey at the B&N  CD signing

Doug & Kelsey at the Barnes & Noble CD signing

As the questions were submitted by those in attendance, I was slightly annoyed that most of the questions were not about the show at all, and were more about Kelsey Grammer’s experiences during Frasier, or were about the then rumor that Kelsey was to play Albin later on in the show’s run (there had already been confirmation that this was not to happen, yet the question was still asked – several times). Happily, the question that I had written (and was probably the only question that was about the show itself) was read out – my question had asked both Doug and Kelsey how they interpreted their roles and the relationship between the two characters – for the life of me, I can’t recall what their exact response was, but I do remember the question was answered thoroughly and thoughtfully. After the question and answer session, the aforementioned Cagelles took to the stage to sing (once again) “We Are What We Are”, which was fantastically performed.

Cagelles from left to right: Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Yurel Echezarreta, Sean Patrick Doyle and Terry Lavell

Cagelles from left to right: Matt Anctil, Logan Keslar, Yurel Echezarreta, Sean Patrick Doyle and Terry Lavell

After the performance, the CD signing portion of the event commenced – a good number of the cast were there, all whom sat in a row, with a designated spot to sign in the booklet. By this time, most of the cast recognized me on sight [it would be months later when they would address me at the stage door by name], and they were all glad to see me – I recall Todd Lattimore remarking to Harvey Fierstein that I was one of the “super fans” [having seen the show by then at least a dozen times], which was a sweet thing for him to say.

The La Cage cast at Barnes & Noble

The La Cage cast at Barnes & Noble

The next CD signing event was on November 4th at the 5th Avenue Lord & Taylor, where a special makeup kit inspired by the show was being sold (sadly, mascara was not included in the makeup kit). Only Doug and Kelsey would be at this CD signing, so naturally I got to the store early and hung around until they arrived; for whatever reason they were late in arriving [the CD signing was to have started at 12:30 pm, and they had arrived roughly an hour later]. Nevertheless, they were both cheerful in greeting those who had waited to get their CDs signed (a free CD was given with every $50 store purchase). It was lovely to see the natural rapport they had with one another off stage, which further enhanced their rapport onstage. It was also during this CD signing that I had the opportunity to get a photo with both Doug and Kelsey [for obvious reasons Kelsey never, or at least rarely ever, posed for photos at the stage door] – when I had asked if I could take a photo with both of them, Kelsey had quipped, “Don’t you have one already?” to which I immediately responded “Not with both of you together”; with much mirth, I got my photo.

Doug & Kelsey at Lord & Taylor

Doug & Kelsey at Lord & Taylor

My (only) photo with Doug and Kelsey

My (only) photo with Doug and Kelsey

The days were getting shorter and the weather turning colder, yet I still waited at the stage door, and eventually started to take friends to see the show, and I also started to strike up conversations with those also waiting at the stage door – many of whom were surprised and impressed at the number of times I had seen the show. Also, stated earlier, the cast were noticing my presence at the stage door [as I was more times than not able to secure a spot right at the front of the barricades, usually to the right of the stage door area] – I do recall A.J. Shively keeping track (as best as he could) of the number of times I had seen the show (I always waited at the stage door).

The next installment will cover the winter months, including the time I got a backstage tour [twice!], how I spent my birthday, as well as the pinnacle of my quasi-fixation with La Cage: watching all the weekend performances, which coincided with the departure of Doug, Kelsey, Robin De Jesus and Fred Applegate., and the (unintended) drama surrounding their successors.

To be continued…

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…