Once-a-Year Day – Adventures at the Broadway Cares /Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market & Grand Auction

Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) is a stellar organization that supports a variety of social causes, and has a multitude of fundraising events throughout the year. One of their most popular events is the annual Flea Market & Grand Auction, held on the last Sunday in September, often referred to as “Broadway Christmas”, as fans can obtain almost everything theatre related, from vintage and contemporary playbills and /or posters (signed and unsigned) to prop pieces and costumes worn on stage, as well as the typical flea market items (books, CDs, and baked goods). There’s also an autograph table with a rotating list of theater actors, a silent auction for unique (usually signed) items, and the Grand Auction, where extraordinary experiences such as walk-on roles for specific shows, backstage tours and opening night tickets for next season’s shows are up for the bidding. The Flea Market & Grand Auction starts at 10 AM and ends at 7PM (the Grand Auction starts around 5PM – I think. I never stick around to watch the Grand Auction, as it’s somewhat distressing to not be able to afford the starting bid for such unique experiences; besides, by that time I’m usually exhausted and out of funds.)

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There are a multitude of tables, most of which are show specific, selling memorabilia from their shows, but by far my favorite table is the TDF Pik-a-Tkt table, where you can win a pair of tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway (and sometimes off-off Broadway) shows. It’s one of the most popular tables, and (in my opinion) one of the most addictive, and probably one that raises a lot of money. The premise is simple: there are three medium sized containers full of (stapled) raffle tickets; if one of the raffles has a winning stamp, you are awarded a white envelope with a pair of tickets, or a voucher good for two tickets. The envelopes are sealed, and are randomly selected by the volunteers working the table, so there’s a level of suspense and (sweet) anticipation of finding out the winning show. Then there’s the “trading pen” – well it’s it’s not really a pen per se, but it is a quasi-contained and designated area where raffle winners confer with one another to maximize their winnings by either straight trading for different shows or change show dates. It’s a kind of networking and semi-collaborative effort to get the shows (and the date) you want, and a pretty good way to get to know fellow fans.

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I’ve mentioned the BC/EFA and its Flea Market & Auction in most of my entries, as it’s usually the source of where I’ve obtained tickets to the many shows I’ve seen (and blogged about) thus far. I’ve attended the Flea Market & Auction for the past fifteen years, and in recent years I’ve spent the bulk of my day actively participating in the TDF table, usually winning a multitude of tickets every year, sometimes making good trades, and sometimes not (depending on which shows I’ve won and my willingness to trade). I also spend the day perusing the other tables picking up interesting trinkets or CDs, almost always taking copious amount photos of items for sale (for posterity), wishing I had the funds to purchase them. Even though there are designated tables where credit cards are accepted, I always bring a set amount of cash with me, thus limiting my spending ability (and to ensure that I don’t bankrupt myself inadvertently). It’s also a day on which I can easily see friends I’ve met through the various shows I’ve seen (usually bonding at the stage door), friends I’ve known since high school and “friends” I’ve encountered and interacted with at the TDF table (usually in the trading area.

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As it’s an outdoor event literally in and around Shubert Alley, weather is a key element. The weather is almost always fair in temperature, sometimes with overcast skies; sometimes it’s warmer than usual and sunny. There was one year when it was indoors (at the now closed) Roseland Ballroom due to the torrential rain. In years past, West 44th Street was closed off so that the entire street (and sidewalks on either side were full of people looking for great deals on theatre-related items, which resulted in congestion and crowds around the more popular tables. There had been a few years when the pedestrian areas in the middle of Times Square were used to station tables, which spread out the Flea Market experience. The 2016 Flea Market was different than it had been in previous years in that only half of West 44th Street was cordoned off for tables, allowing for ongoing (one way) traffic the other half of the street. The flea market then wrapped around to West 45th Street with the same configuration, and was limited to that city block; Shubert Alley remained in use as it always had been, and the use of the pedestrian areas in Times Square proper were not utilized. I suppose this was done to ease traffic (for cars and people alike) in the area, as Times Square is already a popular and (usually) overpopulated area on any good day.

It’s always a fun day and a great start to the new Broadway season. As the title of this entry says, it’s my Once-a-Year Day, where I have loads of fun, meet up with friends and find the most unique theater-related items (and win lots and lots of show tickets). All the proceeds go to a worthy cause and helps scores of people throughout the City and across the country. For more information about Broadway Cares and the other Events it holds, visit their website: https://broadwaycares.org/

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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).

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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

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.

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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

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…