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Broadway Reviews

La Cage aux Folles

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - May 5, 2005

La Cage aux Folles Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman. Book by Harvey Fierstein. Based on the play 'La Cage Aux Folles' by Jean Poiret. Directed by Jerry Zaks. Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. Music Director Patrick Vaccariello. Set design by Scott Pask. Costume design by William Ivey Long. Lighting design by Donald Holder. Sound design by Peter Fitzgerald. Hair & wig design by Paul Huntley. Starring Gary Beach, Robert Goulet. Also starring Gavin Creel, Angela Gaylor, Ruth Williamson, Michael Mulheren, Linda Balgord, John Shuman, Michael Benjamin Washington. Adrian Bailey, Bryan Batt, Paul Canaan, Joey Dudding, Christopher Freeman, Merwin Foard, Patty Goble, Dale Hensley, John Hillner, Leah Horowitz, Clark Johnsen, Paul McGill, Brad Musgrove, Eric Otte, Nathan Peck, Andy Pellick, T. Oliver Reid, Jermaine R. Rembert, Dorothy Stanley, Eric Stretch, Charlie Sutton, Will Taylor, Josh Walden, Emma Zaks.
Theatre: Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway at 46th Street
Schedule: Tuesday at 7 PM, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM. Wednesday and Saturday Matinee at 2 PM. Sunday Matinee at 3 PM.
Ticket price: $100, $80, $50, $25
Tickets: Ticketmaster

The distance from Las Vegas to the French Riviera just got a lot shorter. That's not to say it's ever seemed that significant with the Jerry Zaks-directed revival of the Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein La Cage aux Folles, which employs plenty of splash, flash, and color to try (in vain) to make one of the most benign musical comedies of the last 20 years seem edgily topical. Throw in Jerry Mitchell's everything-and-the-kitchen-sink choreography, and you have the theatrical equivalent of a round-trip ticket to Nevada.

At last, the final piece has fallen into place: Robert Goulet. Newly arrived at the Marquis to take over the role of Georges from the recently departed Daniel Davis, Goulet has cachet as a star of both Broadway and Las Vegas, an ideal combination for the show's cabaret-drenched setting. And when he strides out before the curtain at the top of the show to address the audience - doubling as his patrons in the titular nightclub - Goulet is instantly recognizable, instantly likable, and instantly commanding.

He doesn't, however, do much else instantly. From his stiff, lumbering walk to his occasionally forceful scooping up to high notes, Goulet gives a game but tentative performance in a role most effectively played with graceful ease. He must control both the show and the shows-within-the-show with an exuberance that bespeaks of Georges's eternal, precocious youthfulness; his show-business life - and his longtime partner, Albin, La Cage's star (as the glamorous Zaza) - keeps him young. Despite Goulet's matinee-idol looks, which are remarkably well preserved (if sometimes plastically so), he never radiates youth or exuberance, but the world weariness of, well, a mature Robert Goulet.

So as long as you go expecting Goulet and not Georges, you'll have few worries; Goulet plays Goulet better than anyone. And, despite some apprehensiveness with Herman's songs, he still sings Goulet better than anyone: He brings his own unique charm to the bouncy-romantic "With You On My Arm" and the more straightforward ballad "Song on the Sand." And in "Look Over There," in which he must reprimand his son Jean-Michel for demanding Albin be pushed into the background to placate the staunchly conservative parents of Jean-Michel's bride-to-be, Goulet is a master of loving reproach.

If Goulet's casting works best in that old-time show-biz way that revels in its defiance of suspension of disbelief, it does still work. And his performance is ultimately right at home in the rest of this energetic but middling production full of elements that, like Goulet, come close to satisfying but never completely do. That aspect of the production has only amplified over the months it's been running, with most of the performers building up their confidence but losing what grip they once had on the show's glitzy but slightly gritty reality.

Gavin Creel is the only one on stronger footing this time around, even if he still lacks a firm grasp on Jean-Michel's more fatuous aspects. Gary Beach's overplaying of Albin has only worsened, and he still can't sell the character's downward emotional slide and eventual upturn, or the defiant "I Am What I Am" first-act finale that should send the audience reeling into intermission. Michael Benjamin Washington, as Albin's flamboyant maid/butler, is still a scene stealer of the most brazen, disruptive sort, and Ruth Williamson, Michael Mulheren, and Linda Balgord still give solid, professional performances in roles that barely benefit from them.

And, of course, the 12-strong Les Cagelles remain on hand to provide the requisite legs-and-laughs thrills that attendees at La Cage or La Cage go in expecting. They capture the feeling and energy of the place and provide a great, glittery backdrop for Beach or, especially, Goulet. Despite the air of vaunted sexual mystery Les Cagelles provide - one of the few things not so appropriate for Vegas, where what you see is generally what you get - Goulet never looks like he wants to be anywhere else. Audience members seeing him return to Broadway for the first time in almost 10 years are themselves unlikely to feel differently.

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