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Gary Beach (seated) and Daniel Davis
in La Cage aux Folles
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
The hardliners of the La Cage aux Folles revival have successfully held their ground on the kiss issue. I'm referring to the reported pre-opening debate between the members of the creative team who felt that audiences have matured enough to witness two men in a lip-lock and those who weren't sure. As it turned out, the musical's gay lovers, Georges (Daniel Davis) and Albin (Gary Beach), do indeed suck face.

However, they indulge only as the final curtain begins to fall and they are walking upstage into the St. Tropez sunset -- a shadowy sunset that lighting designer Donald Holder creates. In other words, Davis and Beach execute this potentially shocking maneuver at a point when anyone disgusted enough to storm out of the theater would only seem to be in a hurry to beat other patrons to a taxi. Georges and Albin don't kiss as they finish singing Jerry Herman's beautiful "Song on the Sand," though that's when it would seem more dramatically right to do so: The two have just repaired a temporary rift by way of emotionally recalling their initial infatuation.

The kiss may seem a bold gesture at first blush, but its last-second inclusion by director Jerry Zaks is a tip-off to the cautious thinking behind this production. Intent on pleasing the happily converted, the powers behind this plumping up of the Tony Award winning 1983 tuner have pressed the razzle-dazzle button. And to maximize the chances of recouping their investment from the possibly touchy tourist trade, they've relied on set designer Scott Pask, costume designer William Ivey Long, and especially choreographer Jerry Mitchell to wow the eye while sound designer Peter Fitzgerald helps wow the ear.

All of this production's "Cagelles" are men, and they come through with thick-thighed athleticism; the all-male can-can that Mitchell has devised may or may not be a first, but it's unquestionably rousing. (Some patrons will wince at so many manly bodies hitting the floor in full splits.) The choreographer's only lapse as he runs the cast through its high-voltage paces is in the Georges-Albin duet "With You on My Arm"; the number is uncomfortably reminiscent of the "Timeless to Me" interlude that Mitchell concocted for Harvey Fierstein and Dick Latessa in Hairspray.

Speaking of Fierstein, the entertain-them-or-bust mentality that prevails in this refurbished La Cage hits a snag with that actor-writer's libretto. Moviegoers who recall the French film that started all the huzzah know that it's fall-out-of-your-seat funny as it show us Georges and Albin -- the latter known as Zaza when performing -- trying to macho it up so that Georges' son, Jean-Michel (Gavin Creel), can impress his fiancée Anne (Angela Gaylor) and her ultra-conservative parents, the Dindons (Michael Mulheren, Linda Balgord). Audiences scream with delight when Georges tries to teach Albin to walk with a manly stride. They are beside themselves with glee when M. Dindon (translation: turkey) ducks lurking paparazzi by donning drag. (Presumably, the helpless-laughter reaction also attended the Jean Poiret stage play from which the film was taken.)

Few such laughs are induced by Fierstein's adaptation, which seems appreciably less engaging than it did 20 years ago. (Note: Mike Nichol's 1996 film The Birdcage has a screenplay by Elaine May.) Although some of the incidents involving the cross-dressing butler Jacob (Michael Benjamin Washington) and stage manager Francis (John Shuman) are worth a few chuckles, the more involved Georges-Albin segments are merely unpleasant. Albin, tearing around like a diva on a bad wig day (in good wigs by Paul Huntley), is too tedious to be a tickle. Worse, Jerry Herman's "Cocktail Counterpoint," wherein Georges, Jean-Michel, and the Dindons clash in overlapped song, is a shambles. Much worse yet for a musical comedy, the Tony-winning Herman score -- aside from "Song on the Sand," "The Best of Times," and "I Am What I Am" -- sounds unexpectedly lackluster.

Daniel Davis, Ruth Williamson, Gavin Creel,
Angela Gaylor, and Gary Beach in La Cage aux Folles
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Gary Beach holds nothing back in "I Am What I Am," yet his overall performance in the juicy Albin/Zaza part is disappointing. This is Gary Beach as Nathan Lane as Albin; the reminiscent acting style is hard to miss. Maybe Beach's many performances with Lane in The Producers are the cause of this odd development. It's also possible that the actor's turn here has been diluted by the abundance of current Great White Way transvestism: He has competition from Bruce Vilanch in Hairspray, Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everage in Back With a Vengeance!, and even Jonathan Freeman in Beach's old Roger De Bris role in The Producers. Talk about show queens!
As a result, Daniel Davis's suave Georges inherits the larger spotlight, especially when full-throatedly delivering "Song on the Sand." Gavin Creel is okay as Jean-Michel, though it's unclear why he has a ponytail when he's so concerned about passing muster with Anne's hyper-critical dad. The rest of the cast members, including the hard-working Cagelles, hold up their end of the bargain. But even if La Cage aux Folles was always pretty much an enterprise geared to appeal to the tired businessman and -woman, that doesn't mean that such patrons should be served a tired show. In this production, yesteryear's mascara is running.

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