Theatre Review: "La Cage Aux Folles"
by Jonathan Warman
Nobody covers drag queens like I do! For well over 10 years, I’ve been to every nook and cranny of this dirty town to see all kinds of drag acts. All I needed from them was a press release that let me know that they’d done something with their act to bring it to the level of a cabaret performance or a theatrical evening, and I’d be there. And like any show queen worth their salt, I’ve also seen plenty of plain old drag shows in bars from the glitzy to the grimy. Often enough, I’d find the greatest geniuses lip-synching in the bars, and the biggest fakes charging legit prices for their wares in Midtown.
So when I heard that Brit director Terry Johnson had concocted a production of La Cage aux Folles that had more to do with grimy gay bar geniuses than Vegas glitter, I was deeply intrigued. That production, originally at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory, has made it to Broadway, and I have to say that it’s the most authentic, fun and touching version of this drag-centric story I’ve ever even heard of.
Georges (Kelsey Grammer) is the impresario of a trashy but charming drag club in St. Tropez on the French Riviera, where his husband, high-strung drag performer Albin (Douglas Hodge), is the star. They lead a happy existence, until their son announces his engagement to the daughter of a conservative right-wing politician — who’s coming to dinner.
This production announces its intentions right away, with its drag chorus, Les Cagelles. They’re not the collection of drag chorines you see in other productions of La Cage. They are six individual drag queens corralled into performing together. The casting of such distinctive performers as Terry Lavell, Nick Adams and Sean Patrick Doyle signals right away that any of the girls they play could headline. I’m not as familiar with the other Cagelles, but they make just as sharp an impression.
I also don’t think I’ve seen an Albin that’s as believably a drag diva as the one Hodge gives us. He doesn’t just add a fey layer to the songs he sings, as some Albins do. He sings this line as Piaf, this line as Dietrich, and his line readings are every bit as delicately over-the-top as, say, Charles Busch. Grammer has a surprising sweetness and warmth as Georges, and together they are a truly endearing couple.
Johnson has also taken great care to create the world of 1970s St. Tropez, the better to make sense of the place that Albin and George have in it. There are certain locals who “get” them, some others not quite so much. Johnson has brought a level of realism and detail that La Cage has never had before, making it more poignant, stirring and tender — and more entertaining — than ever before.
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For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.