by Margaret Croyden
Margaret Croyden is a theater reviewer and essayist for the New York Theatre Wire.
La Cage Aux Folles---A True Extravaganza
Music & Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Jerry Zaks
The Marquis Theater
45th St & Broadway
Reviewed February 2, 2005 by Margaret Croyden
If there is one thing that makes a Broadway musical special, it is spectacle--spectacle that is lavish, costumes that are sparkling, scenery that is dazzling and dancers that are perfect. If I had more adjectives I would throw them in. But "La Cage Aux Folles" is all of that--and more. If you want fun, get yourself to the Marquis theater (probably the worst barn on Broadway) to see this show, despite the barn which was surprisingly only half full and drafty. Still the production is the thing. So is the acting. And the numbers.
The story is a simple one. The setting is a nightclub, run by a suave, sophisticated homosexual entrepreneur, Georges, (beautifully captured by Daniel Davis). The club's main attraction is its company of transvestites including all the dancers. Georges is in a long time relationship with his star, Za-Za also known as Albin, whose talent is performing in drag--and brilliant in his/her rendition. He wears gorgeous gowns, marvelous wigs, has a great figure, and a beautiful singing voice. And in this role the actor, Gary Beach is superb. Albin is a sensitive delicate man, madly in love with Georges and devoted to him for three decades. In fact they have a beautiful love song together. In the middle of it all Georges' son, a straight guy (from a one-night stand Georges had years before), is about to get married to a girl whose father is violently anti-gay. The father wants to meet his prospective in-laws and there is where the problem begins. And where the plot turns hilarious. No need to tell you the rest; it would spoil the fun.
The music and lyrics by the late Jerry Herman and the book by Harvey Fierstein are exceedingly clever and full of many moments of satire about everything--homosexuals, straights, young love, and mature love. Fierstein has a brilliant sense of humor about the foibles of the gay world-- the inside jokes, the campy walks, the queens, the prima donnas, and the chorus boys.
But a sweetness permeates the entire work as well, because the main idea of the musical besides all the glamour of the setting comes through in lovely songs: "I am What I am," an identity song about being gay and proud of it too, and a beautiful nostalgic love song between Gary Beach and Daniel Davis about the first time the two lovers meet. The thrust of the story is that these characters are just like everyone else-- in love, true to each other, but with another kind of life style, but essentially, no different from the straight world.
Perhaps the most spectacular aspects of the show are the dancers who are brilliant, versatile, and perfect; it is hard to tell what sex they are; they all look like dancers should. The leading actors, the very attractive and compelling Daniel Davis playing Georges, and Gary Beach in the role of Albin are perfectly matched, totally believable and, more important, they know how to act, not just sing. Which they do quite well too. Albin, the more feminine of the two is more vulnerable and adds a sense of sweetness to his character, so that in the end, the story and the characters are touching in their depiction of a real homosexual love affair. Clearly the authors want us to see that homosexuals are like everyone else despite their foibles, their quirks, and their all too human weaknesses.
If you love musicals, by all means see this show even though you've seen it before, even though you've seen the movie. The production is gorgeous, the acting first rate and the dancers--well I've already said it all. [Croyden]
Margaret Croyden's most recent book is "Conversations With Peter Brook, 1970-2000" published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
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