Long weekends in New York City are great opportunities to check out Broadway plays, and our 4th of July weekend visit was no exception. We caught a matinee of the Tony-nominated Le Cage aux Folles on Saturday.
It was remarkably good, in ways that I would’ve have expected.
Having seen the Robin Williams/Nathan Lane film The Birdcage I expected I would be entertained, and I was right. The story is largely the same (appropriate, since the film is based on the French play) but the presentation is much different. We’re treated to more song-and-dance numbers by Les Cagelles, giving the ensemble a chance to shine, which was more fun than I expected. But what really won me over was the greater emotional punch that the play shares with the audience.
Douglas Hodge as Albin was more compelling than Nathan Lane’s Albert. Perhaps not quite as consistently funny, but the audience feels a stronger connection to Albin’s pain when his young semi-stepson wants him to disappear for the fiancé’s parents’ visit.
Don’t get me wrong – Albin brings plenty of laughs, particularly in the scene where Georges tries to teach him to be more masculine. In fact, that scene was an improvement over the movie – not quite so riddled with stereotype, and you find yourself rooting for Albin to improve rather than just wanting to laugh at his femininity.
Kelsey Grammer as Georges was entertaining, with very well acted scenes and acceptable vocals. You don’t cast an actor like Grammer in this role for his singing abilities, though – his strength is in his wry humor, his heartwarming concern for his family, and his exasperation when things go very wrong. His performance was much more subtle than Robin Williams’s in the film, less slapstick, and ultimately more powerful.
Robin de Jesus was a big disappointment as Jacob, the butler/maid with dreams of being a showgirl. I enjoyed de Jesus in In the Heights but found his performance here to be far too similar, right down to his speech patterns. He showed absolutely no range as an actor moving from ITT to Le Cage. It was like the character of Sonny had moved to France to become a drag queen named Jacob.
As for the others, they weren’t especially memorable. The young man playing Jean-Michel, Georges’s son who is engaged to the daughter of a famous conservative politician, was wooden and didn’t earn any sympathy for his plight – unlike the son in the film, this one comes off as selfish and bratty, and his redemption at the end felt false. Similarly, his fiancé was utterly forgettable.
The young girl’s parents were very different from the film – the father was a first class jerk without Gene Hackman’s underlying charm to help you forgive his close-minded views, and the mother didn’t bring any of Dianne Wiest’s warmth to the role; like the daughter, she was forgettable.
Those flaws aside, this production of Le Cage aux Folles is still excellent – you just have to remember that it’s not an ensemble piece. Grammer and Hodge steal the show, and are worth the price of admission all by themselves.
One final note: the play’s themes of acceptance, family, and authentically being who are you all come across very clearly and with more impact than in The Birdcage, so go see Le Cage expecting to laugh AND to be moved. (Just don’t be angry with me if you catch yourself humming the song from the finale for a few days afterward!)