Last update - for reasons I cannot adequately explain, I also went to see “La Cage Aux Folles" a couple of weeks ago. I couldn’t explain why I was going before, and I can’t explain why I went now. I have rarely been so bored by such aggressive attempts to entertain me.
Four problems with this show.
First, the source material. The original movie was pretty hilarious when it was an original movie. But it hasn’t worn well. We get the joke, and it’s not entirely clear anymore who the joke’s on. The American cinematic attempt at a reboot had its amusing moments, but its heart was displaced way off to the right - specifically, the hard right of Gene Hackman’s Republican Senator. His connection with Nathan Lane’s drag persona (not knowing he isn’t a real woman) is the only genuine moment in the movie, and touching as it is, it isn’t enough to carry a movie weighted down by Robin Williams. This material is just flat-out hard to make relevant.
Second, the stage adaptation. I didn’t see the original production, nor the revival from a few years ago, so I don’t know whether in other hands I might have seen something I didn’t see here. But from where I was sitting, the book, lyrics and music were alike insipid, shallow, well-nigh insulting. The farce is almost completely drained out of the original movie; what we’re left with for humor is camp, and weak camp at that.
Third, the directorial concept for this production. There seems to be a thing, these days, for putting on deliberately shabby productions. The “Kiss Me Kate" that we saw in Canada last summer is an example - Lilli Vanessi is supposed to be a big movie star, but the production of "Shrew" that this production put her in is down at the level of something the mechanicals in "Dream" might put on. Well, this production of "La Cage" is the latest such. None of the drag performers are remotely plausible as women - they aren’t even trying. ZaZa, the star of the show, isn’t a great drag star - he’s a second-rate Dame Edna. The production numbers are frequently athletic, but never aesthetically powerful. I really started to wonder - who supposedly goes to this club? Am I actually supposed to believe that this place is a success? And if it isn’t - then where is that awareness among any of the characters?
Lastly, the casting. Douglas Hodge can be reasonably funny - he certainly has the timing to be. But the main interest of his performance is his uncanny resemblance to Jack Lemmon as Daphne in “Some Like It Hot.” Kelsey Grammer is a wet noodle. Nobody on the bride’s side of the family seems remotely like an actual human being. And A. J. Shively as Jean-Michel! First, could he be any more-obviously gay? Second, could he be any more-obviously sweet? He’s supposed to break his parents’ hearts - and this guy looks like he would crack at Hodge’s first slight whimper. The whole drama, what little there is of it, lacks emotional plausibility because I never believe this kid is doing what the play says he’s doing. I hesitate to blame the actor, though, because the whole production is so bathed in treacle that I’m sure he was told not to do any acting. (The ladies in the audience might think you’re a real lion!)
Comedy comes from anger. When you set out to soothe your audience, all you’ll do is bore them. You want to see a great piece of drag-based art? Rent “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”