Gary Beach and Robert Goulet in La Cage aux Folles(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Gary Beach and Robert Goulet in La Cage aux Folles
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Robert Goulet looks to be having a helluva good time now that he's replaced the departed (under a cloud of stage gossip) Daniel Davis in La Cage aux Folles. This, of course, is the same Robert Goulet who made his first Broadway bow in Camelot (1960) singing "C'est Moi" with cocky splendor. Forty-five years later, the fellow is still creating frissons.

Indeed, as Georges -- the homosexual proprietor of a Riviera drag palace and the lover of Albin, the boite's feather-plumed star -- Goulet is playing the role and also, to some extent, playing himself playing the role. This may sound like a highfalutin Brechtian approach, but it ain't. It's just Goulet, who's always had a sense of humor about himself, enjoying the fact that he still has a terrific baritone, remains cover-boy handsome in his 70s despite a questionable coiffeur, and retains an enviable ease at the art of musical comedy (not to mention the art of working a room).

Goulet makes no attempt to delve into the depths of his character, but this is by no means a drawback to his performance; La Cage aux Folles is hardly heavy stuff. It concerns itself with a long-standing gay relationship and believes sincerely in it, as the anthem "I Am What I Am" demonstrates, but it doesn't become so serious as to get in the way of offering pure camp entertainment. The show's splashy Riviera production numbers look a lot like Las Vegas spectaculars, and headliner Goulet sure knows from Vegas; he not only performs there regularly but also lives in the city.

So, in many ways, Goulet is ideal casting for Georges -- and the little things that the B'way vet hasn't yet mastered don't prevent him from being successful in the role. While his voice is still supple and forceful and he makes something lovely of Jerry Herman's exquisite "Song on the Sand," he isn't much of a mover. Stiff in the middle, he seems to be having trouble getting Jerry Mitchell's simple choreography for him under his (dance)belt. Actually, he moves as if he's wearing a corset.

But this is unimportant next to Goulet's rapport with co-star Gary Beach, who's Albin when offstage and Zaza when on. The two leads look to be very comfortable with each other, and that's a requisite for this tuner. During their "With You on My Arm" soft-shoe, Goulet may not be in synch with the movement but is totally in synch with the spirit -- and he has a nice way of letting the audience know he is.

As Albin, Beach is still turning "I Am What I Am" into a fiery challenge for anyone who disagrees with him. His diva isn't initially so appealing -- in previous incarnations of the property, others have been -- but he certainly puts every ounce of energy he's got into the part. (Geoffrey Polischuk, his dresser, must be one of the busiest worker bees on Broadway.) Ever fabulous in Paul Huntley's flowing wigs, William Ivey Long's flashy costumes, and T. O. Dey and J. C. Theatrical and LaDuca high heels are the men gussied up as Les Cagelles. All of them definitely earn their weekly pay.

With Goulet bringing new suavity to the show and the continuing players keeping up their stamina, songwriter Herman, librettist Harvey Fierstein, and director Jerry Zaks have reason to believe that their weekly paychecks will continue to arrive for some time to come.