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La Cage aux Folles


PS Classics

Say what you will about the newest Broadway production of La Cage aux Folles and its cast—and many have had their widely contrasting says and yays and nays—the cast album can't be called redundant, as it is so very different from the original of yore. It also has a little more material, with a bit of bookwriter Harvey Fierstein's dialogue. The vocal qualities, singing styles and interpretations of the roles of the male couple at its center are quite different from what we heard on the cast album and in other productions, there's a different balance between rowdiness and heart, and the orchestrations (Jason Carr) are like bright, sometimes catching-glare new coats of paint. Still, and happily, what ever-so-sturdily survives and stands out is Jerry Herman's solidly constructed, ultra-accessible score. An amoeba could hum the melodies—especially the ones that are extended and reprised and hammered home, the kind of catchy show tunes once called "take-home tunes."

My take on this new take is a mix of pleasure and puzzlement. The choices are often bold or brash and rarely subtle. Oh, how I miss "subtle" after a couple of hearings ... but look over here, my feet can't stop tapping and after a full night of sleep, I woke up humming those melodies all over again. PS Classics has given us a sparklingly and solidly produced cast album with another of their generous booklets packed with information (commentary with perspective by Fierstein and a detailed plot synopsis), color photos from the show and all of the lyrics.

Although I was at times entertained by the outrageousness and out-there Douglas Hodge portrayal of Albin/ drag queen performer Zaza, I was well "over" it and its over-the-top tone before the CD was over. His opening number "A Little More Mascara" I found to be pure delight, full of splash and sassy sauciness and Zaza's zing and zest. Hooray for that: a knockout. As things progressed, and as I returned to some of the tracks after my initial listen, I found diminishing returns with the wham-bam of the hamminess. It's I think it sacrifices power and some dignity that is the potential for this character when taken with more discretion and depth. Some comedy is gained and quite a bit of drama is frittered away. "I Am What I Am" is hardly a washout, but the focused intensity and pauses for effect of empowerment are painted with a broad brush, the color a brighter pink than might be needed.

As his lover, Kelsey Grammer is more tempered (well, everything's relative!). He's differently robust and full of self-puffery, hardly letting a single word go by that he doesn't find a way to color and highlight and chew or linger over. The self-satisfied manner, the fumbling protestations, the dashing splashiness of presentation and dark, pre-meditated cackling all have flashes of his most exaggerated TV role, voicing the recurring cartoon character of the sadistic criminal Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons. But there are times when it is, to borrow one of the song titles, the best of times, and his masterful master-of-ceremonies character and egg-in-face comedy works wonders. He's a competent singer and has energy and charisma. His "Look Over There" is done very staccato, the word "look" sometimes harshly admonished, and I miss the legato melodic lines here and elsewhere. There's some swell energy between the two as they play longtime lovers squabbling and making up and knowing each other so well. Their recollection of their early romantic times, with "Song on the Sand," misses some of its sweet nostalgia by seeming surprisingly offhand and brusque in parts, though it begins and ends with tenderness and longing.

The title song is a mix of happy, brassy Broadway comfort zone and the Twilight Zone, the decadence and mystery of the tacky nightclub and a relentless repetition of the simple melody with the ensemble voices very loud in the mix and raucousness apparently valued. "The Best of Times" also descends into more of the more! more! more! mentality, more noticeable because of it being the ultimate sing-along, clap-along kind of cheer-up-or-else song. The silver lining in these gaudy golden gushes is glorious Christine Andreas chiming in with her more interesting vocal qualities. Though she is not showcased in her smallish role, she is a well-noted asset.

Overall, some of the finest moments are at the beginning: the buoyant and bubbly Jerry Herman songs are well served by the rosy renditions of the satisfyingly sunny overture, The Cagelles' choral "We Are What We Are" with its winking waggishness, the cheery romance of "With Anne on My Arm" (featuring A.J. Shively) reprised immediately as "With You on My Arm" and the aforementioned ode to the power of mascara and moxy. Later, things are rockier and uneven, but there are many moments of panache and polish that make this alternate-universe La Cage refreshingly different as a change of pace that may well increase in some folks' estimation as a valid and valued "other" way. Much of it soars and roars.

- Rob Lester

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