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La Cage aux Folles (12/09/2004 - 06/26/2005)


AP: "La Cage Back on Broadway"

Some 20 years after it first opened in New York, "La Cage aux Folles," Broadway's favorite family values musical, is back on the boards, its sequins, feathers, bugle beads and ankle straps firmly in place.

The show, which arrived Thursday at the Marquis Theatre, stands foursquare in support of motherhood. OK, so mom happens to be a drag queen working in a Saint-Tropez nightclub, but the musical couldn't be more in favor of loving, nurturing relationships. This one just happens to be between two men.

If the sell is a little harder this time around, no matter. There's still its warmhearted, if jokey story (adapted by Harvey Fierstein), composer Jerry Herman's tuneful, Gallic-flavored melodies and some spiffy, athletic production numbers to remind audiences what originally caused all the fuss.

"La Cage" was quite a hit in 1983, when gay relationships were not center stage in big, splashy, mainstream Broadway shows. That novelty is now gone, but family values certainly are getting more ink these days.

And who could be more family - in their bickering, old-married way - than Georges (Daniel Davis) and Albin (Gary Beach), the twosome who operate and star in La Cage aux Folles, a slightly naughty, touristy nightclub on the French Riviera.

The story, for those who came in late, involves Georges' attempt to hide his relationship with the more outrageous Albin, the club's drag headliner. Georges has a son - from an indiscreet one-night stand - and now the boy is engaged to a girl whose father is head of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party. Georges demands Albin go into the closet for one evening while he entertains his prospective in-laws. He asks this, even though it was Albin who has raised the son (Gavin Creel) from infancy.

What made the original so appealing was the steady performances by its leading men, George Hearn and Gene Barry. Beach and Davis are both pros, but they need to relax a bit. Director Jerry Zaks has pitched things way too frantically from the get-go, with the musical exhausting its emotions quickly, especially in the show's plot-heavy first act.

Beach shines in the musical numbers. He knows how to sell a song, especially a pean to drag, "A Little More Mascara," and his anthem of outrage, "I Am What I Am," as Albin storms out on Georges at the end of Act 1.

Things settle down after intermission even as the plot heats up, and the two leads share an affecting reunion with their "son." The supporting cast, with the exception of Creel's beautifully sung Jean-Michel and Michael Benjamin Washington's saucy butler, er, maid, is surprisingly bland. Even the villainous, would-be in-laws generate few laughs.

Choreographer Jerry Mitchell has rethought the musical's big dance numbers, all of them involving Les Cagelles, the chorus boys who work in drag in the club. These guys are a hardworking crew, and Mitchell doesn't leave anything out - from tap to ballet to the cancan. His dancers cavort around the stage with an abandon that makes you fear for their lives, especially since they also dance on a walkway that encircles the orchestra pit.

You can see that much of the show's budget went into William Ivey Long's lavish costumes, with Beach in what seems like a different outfit (and one smashing blond wig) for every scene. By comparison, Scott Pask's scenery looks a little ordinary, although there is a quaint seaside setting that features a few boats bobbing in the water.

Even 20 years ago, the sentiments expressed in "La Cage aux Folles" were determinedly old-fashioned. In this revival, the one update seems to be having the two male leads chastely kiss at the final curtain, rather than just stroll off arm in arm. It will raise nary an eyebrow.


New York Daily News: "'Folles' revival's far from a drag"

When "La Cage aux Folles" opened on Broadway, 21 years ago, a musical about an aging gay male couple and their encounter with a right-wing "family values" politician seemed thoroughly outrageous, almost, no pun intended, a fairy tale.

One of the remarkable things about the current, wildly entertaining revival is that only the choreography seems outlandish.

In virtually every other respect, it almost seems a quiet family show.

As you recall, "La Cage aux Folles" is the name of a nightclub on the French Riviera. It is owned by Georges, and its celebrated drag revue features his longtime lover Albin, a high-strung diva.

At one point Georges fathered a son. Now the young man, Jean-Michel, is about to marry the daughter of a hypocritical right-wing politician. On the eve of their engagement the two families are about to meet.

Understandably, Jean-Michel wants his actual mother, who has had very little to do with his upbringing, rather than Albin to be present for the meeting.

Ultimately, however, it is Albin - on his best transvestite behavior - who plays maman, with expectedly wild results.

Even the '70s French film, on which the Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein musical was based, was strained. That's built into the plot. But under Jerry Zaks' direction, the show moves so smoothly that even the exaggerated moments (it is, after all, a farce) have a believability.

Much of the strength of the revival hinges on Daniel Davis (the butler on "The Nanny"), who has tremendous strength and suaveness as Georges. Davis has a powerful singing voice and an authoritative presence that gives dignity and depth to everything he does.

In some ways, the most moving moment is the song "Look Over There," in which Georges reminds Jean-Michel of what a supportive mother Albin has been. Davis invests it with great emotional weight.

As Albin, Gary Beach has a wonderfully old-fashioned kind of femininity, reticent and flirtatious. Costume designer William Ivey Long has accentuated this dated quality with a splendid Lucille Lortel-like hat. He is at his best in the first act finale, declaring defiantly through his tears, "I Am What I Am."

As Jean-Michel, Gavin Creel sports a weird ponytail, which doesn't make much sense, but he sings beautifully.

Michael Benjamin Washington captures the sauciness of Georges and Albin's knowing servant, and John Shuman is funny as a masochistic stage manager.

Jerry Mitchell has devised stunning numbers for Les Cagelles, the drag troupe that performs in the nightclub.

Andy Pellick's dancing is so soignee I was sure he must be a woman, but I have been assured he ain't.

Except for a marvelous evocation of a Riviera skyline and the outre decor for Georges and Albin's pad, Scott Pask's sets are fairly bland. The backdrops in the club seem needlessly tacky. Long's costumes have suitable panache.

In some ways "La Cage" seems Herman's most effective dramatic score. It also has some of his most beautiful songs, like "Anne on My Arm," "The Best of Times" and "Song on the Sand."

It has been given a loving, heartwarming revival.

New York Daily News

New York Post: "Still A Gay Ol' Time"

Just like Dolly, it's nice to see "La Cage aux Folles" back where it belongs - on Broadway.

When this Jerry Herman/Harvey Fierstein musical swanned into the Marquis Theatre last night, it flashed all its rich, raucous vulgarity, swooping sentiment and bespangled glitz that has lost neither currency nor charm.

Yet it's still not quite the same. Times have changed, and so have perceptions, and elements that in 1983 had a touch of gay pride have been exchanged for something closer to camp abandon.

When "La Cage" was new, AIDS was cutting its first tragic swath through show business and many gays remained in the closet, so there was even a certain frisson of the daring about it.

And so, when its homosexual-transvestite hero sang, with throaty fervor, "I Am What I Am," there was a political statement that 21 years later has become merely politically correct. As "Seinfeld" taught us, "not that there's anything wrong with that."

Once a liberal anthem, it's now a show tune. But what a show tune! Not that there's anything wrong with that.

"La Cage" started life as a stage play in Paris, went on to become a cult French movie, and was then transmogrified into this Broadway spectacular, a Parisian-style drag floor show given with Las Vegas flash to flesh out its cute sitcom story.

Set in the show's eponymous St. Tropez nightclub, it tells of a cozy gay couple - Georges (a super-urbane Daniel Davis), the club owner, and Albin (a super-camp Gary Beach), his drag-queen star, who've been together for 20 years.

This conventional domesticity hits a snag when their son, Jean-Michel (the outcome of an experimental one-night stand by Georges), decides to marry, and wants to bring home his fiancee and her parents to meet his family.

Since her father's a notoriously anti-gay politician, Jean-Michel begs Georges to bring in his birth mother, if just for the day, while Albin stays elsewhere.

At first hurt by the boy's betrayal, Albin steps into the breech with matronly aplomb when the mother proves, not unexpectedly, unavailable.

Fierstein's book milks the fun out of the situation like a dairy maid on overtime, but the real joy of the show is Herman's terrifically singable score.

"La Cage" was always a splendidly old-fashioned musical, unrepentantly unsophisticated, a follow-up to "Hello, Dolly!" and "Mame" - all wonderful old-time counterpunches to the newer Broadway musical epitomized by Stephen Sondheim.

The show, with amusing new sets by Scott Pask and gorgeous to-die-for costumes by William Ivey Long, is high-octane glamour, over-the-top but reveling in it.

The dozen showgirls - Les Cagelles, as they're called -are now played, very saucily, by men in drag. (In the original, a couple of them actually were women, which gave the audience the trivial pursuit fun of guessing which was what.)

Jerry Mitchell's choreography proves efficiently routine, but Jerry Zaks' new staging doesn't have the same cutting edge as Arthur Laurents' did, while some of the performances have less power.

Those who remember George Hearn's wonderful original turn as Albin may find Beach rather lost on those sands of time, but he is often outrageously funny as a kind of benign Dame Edna. He certainly brings the right passionate poignancy to "I Am What I Am."

Davis' crinkly-eyed Georges, all kindly sophistication and looking as if he had been born in a dinner jacket, proves fine, and his two big ballads are handled with a Maurice Chevalier-like grace.

As the family butler who knows he's really the maid, Michael Benjamin Washington is a delight, and Ruth Williamson is dandy as the restaurant owner Jacqueline. But the starchy parents (Michael Mulheren and Linda Balgord) need more fizz in their detergent, and the dull young lovers, Gavin Creel and Angela Gaylor, disappear into the scenery at every opportunity.

So this "La Cage" is perhaps not quite the best of times, but Jerry Herman's score still jerks at the feet and tugs at the heart.

New York Post

New York Times: "Family Guys Who Are What They Are"

Well, it's about time Broadway turned its attention to the needs of that neglected demographical stereotype, the Tired Businessman. Really, when was the last time that a big show opened with enough cheesecake and hummable, vaguely familiar melodies to penetrate the smog of Maker's Mark and statistics that so many men of Manhattan take with them to the theater?

Finally, there is good news for these weary fellows, who are probably even now groaning over the prospect of another evening of Disney-style anthropomorphism. A revival opened last night at the Marquis Theater with the sauciest, most scantily clad chorus of long-stemmed beauties since, well, probably ''The Will Rogers Follies'' 13 years ago.

There's one hitch, though, boys. These dolls, who are strutting so magnificently through the new production of Jerry Herman's ''Cage aux Folles,'' turn out to be guys. But just have an extra highball before you go. Then you won't even know the difference.

Actually, even the most convention-bound theatergoers won't need to fortify themselves with alcohol to remain shock-free through this alternately garish and pallid production of ''La Cage aux Folles,'' which features a book by Harvey Fierstein and is directed by Jerry Zaks. ''La Cage'' became a hit in 1983, after all, as a cheerfully square, family-friendly entertainment in risqué clothing. It was an old-fashioned celebration of an old-fashioned marriage, with the added fillip that the partners both happened to be men and worked in a transvestite nightclub in St. Tropez. (It was also one of the few shows in recent decades to produce a top-40 pop hit, ''I Am What I Am,'' recorded in a disco version by Gloria Gaynor.)

As Frank Rich noted in his review of the original production for The New York Times, ''La Cage'' was very much in the mold of the chipper entertainments Mr. Herman had made his name with decades earlier -- jolly musicals with sing-along rhythms like ''Hello, Dolly!'' and ''Mame.'' And 21 years later, in a time when television shows like ''Will and Grace'' and ''Queer Eye for the Straight Guy'' have crested in the mainstream, ''La Cage'' feels even staler with its formulaic cartoon characters and wink-wink liberalism (gays are like us, only more colorful).

Though this version features two bright stars in Daniel Davis (as the manly part of the couple) and the wonderful but slightly miscast Gary Beach (as the womanly one), Mr. Zaks's production often gives the impression of merely going through the motions, amiably but robotically, of its gag-laden, sentimental plot. (The story is taken from Jean Poiret's play and the French film of 1978, which was remade in English by Mike Nichols as ''The Birdcage'' in 1996.)

But there is one ingredient that makes this ''La Cage'' worth visiting for people whose diet does not include canned corn and packaged sugar. That's the plumed and spangled all-male ensemble of dancers, choreographed by Jerry Mitchell with a feisty sense of humor and an athletic verve that should make Arnold Schwarzenegger think twice about using ''girly men'' as a pejorative term.

First seen as lissome and ostensibly naked silhouettes through giant keyholes in a boudoir-style backdrop (Scott Pask designed the Technicolor set), the 12-member chorus line of ''La Cage'' sets a racy, self-mocking tone in the opening scenes that is never equaled again. Known as Les Cagelles, the resident dancers of the nightclub of the show's title, they slither and bounce through a succession of routines that evoke the burlesque striptease, the Rockette kick line and the madcap precision tapping of Busby Berkeley movies. And that's just in the opening number.

''We are what we are,'' they pur-r, ''and what we are is an illusion.'' Mr. Mitchell and his dancers happily send up a form that is a send-up to begin with: the kind of cross-dressing extravaganzas that tourists still visit in Paris when they want to feel just a little bit naughty. Costumed to the teeth in feathers, furs and jewels by William Ivey Long (who else?), Les Cagelles bring acrobatic oomph and angularity to centerpieces that include an aviary of exotic, back-flipping birds and a vigorous Montmartre-style can-can. As long as the Cagelles are doing their thing, your attention stays thoroughly engaged.

What happens in between is less compelling. That's the soapy story of the domestic problems of Georges (Mr. Davis), the proprietor of La Cage, and Albin (Mr. Beach), who appears as the nightclub's singing star, Zaza. Albin and Georges are just an ordinary couple. He runs the business, she cooks and cleans. And together, they have raised a handsome young man (the product of a one-night backstage tryst by Georges some 20 years earlier), who now wants to get married.

In the tradition of wholesome screwball comedies like ''Auntie Mame'' (the inspiration for Mr. Herman's ''Mame''), the son, Jean-Michel (Gavin Creel), has grown up to be a prig. And he is mightily embarrassed about introducing his prospective in-laws to a mother like Albin, especially since his fiancée's father (Michael Mulheren) is a Le Penesque politician from the Tradition, Family and Morality Party.

The ensuing complications involve Albin's taking a crash course in being butch and later dressing up like Nancy Reagan before everybody realizes that tradition, family and morality have always had a home at La Cage. Along the way, Georges sings a couple of sappy standard-issue songs about enduring love (''Song on the Sand,'' ''Look Over There''), Albin asserts his identity (with the first-act curtain number, ''I Am What I Am'') and a wacky butler-cum-maid straight out of Sitcomville (Michael Benjamin Washington) delivers lots of sassy put-downs.

Mr. Davis, golden-skinned and silver-haired, is as charmingly low-key and dignified as the situation permits, and he sings soothingly. As anyone knows who saw Mr. Beach in his Tony-winning turn as the quintessential theater queen in ''The Producers,'' this performer always seems to vibrate with a sort of wild, off-center joy. And his natural exuberance doesn't entirely suit the lachrymose Albin, who at heart is a deeply conventional hausfrau.

Mr. Beach appears most at home when Albin is being gleefully subversive in an uptight-matron outfit in the meet-the-parents sequence. In his nightclub drag, he brings to mind Beverly Sills as the Merry Widow; in his civvies, he looks more like Boy George.

The supporting cast is solid if hardly inspired. And Mr. Creel, late of ''Thoroughly Modern Millie,'' goes to unnecessary extremes in making Jean-Michel a dislikable little snob. You wonder why Georges and Albin don't send him packing right away. (With his sleek sportswear and ponytail, he also looks as if he might have more fun with one of the Cagelles than with his Claudia Schiffer-like fiancée, played by Angela Gaylor.)

Still, ''La Cage'' has the ingredients that tourists have traditionally expected from a big Broadway show, delivered with helpful implicit labels: jokey lines that say ''Laugh here''; ballads that say ''Mist up here''; and rousing choral numbers like ''The Best of Times'' that say ''Feel free to clap along with this one.''

Because of these elements, ''La Cage'' way well fill the vacuum left when the revival of ''42nd Street'' closes next month. And at least the chorus of ''La Cage'' is an improvement on the hard-smiling, hard-dancing automatons of ''42nd Street.'' In ''La Cage,'' every dancer emerges as a wry, hearty individual, from the whip-cracking dominatrix to the Nicole Kidman look-alike whose specialty is just to stand there and look beautiful. Would that the rest of the show were that witty.

New York Times

Newsday: "Dragging out a crowd-pleaser once again"

When "La Cage aux Folles" opened on Broadway in 1983, the musical adaptation of the hit French movie was about as threatening as "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" in bugle beads.

The show - which won six Tony Awards, including best musical - had a jokey, big-hearted book by Harvey Fierstein and enough repetitions of upbeat, sentimental songs by Jerry Herman, creator of the 1964 classic "Hello, Dolly!" to have named this one "Hello, Tootsie!"

So don't complain to this corner that the revival, which opened last night at the Marquis Theatre, is passé. With apologies to the show's famous anthem, it is what it is, and that is what it's always been: a middle-of-the-road, '60s crowd-pleaser in drag.

Yes, there is a sudden ugly pertinence in the story's archvillain: the leader of the Tradition, Family and Morality Party. Other than that, the corn's still as high as an elephant's feather boa in the St. Tropez transvestite cabaret owned by an aging male couple named Georges and Albin.

After the 1978 French film, its two sequels and the 1996 American movie version called "The Birdcage," what is there left to know?

Well, except for some tastefully outrageous costumes by William Ivey Long, Jerry Zaks' conventional production feels skimpy and rote.

The men do kiss at the end, which they did not do in 1983, but the morals police are not likely to shut the place down.

Daniel Davis has a twinkling, smooth dignity as Georges, whom he describes as the "plain" homosexual.

Gary Beach, so outlandishly delicious in his Tony-winning portrayal of the flaming director in "The Producers," goes here for a more humane idea of the club's cross-dressing star - though, at times, he turns in a surprisingly familiar combination of Quentin Crisp and Nathan Lane.

Something is off when the most original character onstage is Jacob, the maid, played with wild-card abandon by Michael Benjamin Washington. Gavin Creel is merely competent as Jean-Michel, Georges' gown son, whom he and Albin have raised and adored.

As anyone who cares already knows, Jean-Michel has just become engaged to Anne (Angela Gaylor), the daughter of the morality party boss (Michael Mulheren). The son wants to hide Albin, who instead dresses up as Jean-Michel's matronly mother. Parents arrive, the press is called and alleged hilarity ensues.

Jerry Mitchell - beloved by Broadway for his choreography of "Hairspray" and "The Full Monty" – puts a meager contingent of beautiful chorines with low voices through the expected kick lines, can-cans and tap-dancing production numbers. Inexplicably, the drag queens are also tumbling gymnasts. Is there an Olympic category for that?

Herman, once a Broadway giant, has not had a new show in years. Here he brings back a few liftable songs, reprised until you cannot help but hum them. At least one song, "The Best of Times," is so unrelated to the story it needs a scene to set it up.

And, of course, there is "I Am What I Am," the showstopper that remains the gay contribution to the "I've Gotta Be Me"/"My Way" repertoire.

Scott Pask's sets - the cabaret, the apartment, a street near the sea - are fancifully functional but not especially inventive.

We wish more than the color pink could be described as shocking.

We also wish the orchestra were not hidden under the stage.

What's to hide?


USA Today: "La Cage Aux Folles struts its stuff anew"

Move over, Rockettes. There's a new chorus line of leggy beauties kicking up their heels this season, and these gals have a gimmick: They're not gals.

"Look under our frocks -girdles and jocks," sing the lovely Cagelles in the new revival of La Cage Aux Folles (* * * 1/2 out of four) that opened Thursday at the Marquis Theatre. Sure, it has been more than 20 years since these glamorous transvestites made their debut on Broadway, but they've aged well - and so has their show.

Indeed, with debate over gay unions and related "moral" issues having played such a prominent role in this year's presidential campaigns and post-election coverage, Harvey Fierstein’s Tony Award-winning book has never seemed more topical. Based on a French film of the same name, La Cage follows the love story of Albin and Georges, two longtime partners. Their relationship is rested when Georges' twentysomething son – whom Albin, the Cagelles' queen bee, has raised like a mother - becomes engaged to the daughter of a socially conservative politician.

A press release for the new production describes La Cage, with a wink and a nod to the times, as a "celebration of family values." And as briskly and lovingly directed by Jerry Zaks, that's precisely what it is.

Everything about the show seems warm and festive, from Jerry Herman's milk-and-honey score to William Ivey Long's scrumptious costumes and Jerry Mitchell's exhilarating choreography.

But the real glue holding this La Cage's family values together is provided by its stars. Gary Beach and Daniel Davis, as Albin and Georges, convey the affection and humor required to sustain any couple for more than 20 years. Beach, who provided some of The Producers' funniest moments in his Tony-winning turn as another cross-dresser, embraces Albin and his feminine alter ego, Zaza, with similar relish. But the actor also captures his character's underlying tenderness and the wounded pride that fuels the musical's best-known number, I Am What I Am.

Davis' Georges is, likewise, much more than a straight man (in the comic sense), wielding some of Fierstein's most playful lines with breezy wit. Gavin Creel sings beautifully as the son, and Michael Mulheren's stern authority as his prospective father-in-law is enhanced by a passing resemblance to Rush Limbaugh.

The real standout among the supporting cast, though, is Michael Benjamin Washington, who as Jacob, Albin's maid/butler, gives Zaza a run for her money in the diva department.

So if you want your cup of cheer sewed with a little attitude, and a lot of mascara, La Cage is still the place to go.

USA Today

Variety: "La Cage aux Folles"

In post-election 2004 America, musicals don't come with more built-in topicality than Jerry Herman's "La Cage aux Folles," which deals with homophobia and a political platform constructed on moral and family values. But mystifyingly, for a show with a book by the outspokenly gay-political Harvey Fierstein, this glitzy Broadway revival plays like a pre-"Will and Grace" relic, lobbed onto the stage as if in a cultural vacuum. As the 1983 dragfest's best known song goes, "I Am What I Am." This reincarnation is what it is, too, which should be fine with mainstream ticketbuyers looking for a broadly palatable crowd-pleaser with a comforting message of acceptance and just a hint of something more risque.

The tuner shows its 21 years of age and then some. Since the original, Arthur Laurents-directed production, which starred George Hearn and Gene Barry and played for 1,761 performances at the massive Palace Theater, the French source material by Jean Poiret (a play that became an international hit Gallic movie with two sequels) was updated and Americanized by helmer Mike Nichols and screenwriter Elaine May in "The Birdcage." In Jerry Zaks' agreeable if somewhat pedestrian restaging, it's as if that rejuvenation never happened.

Though laced with Fierstein's saucy quips, the book is a decidedly creaky vehicle and Zaks' direction does little to disguise its fatigue. The show does, however, receive an adrenaline shot from Jerry Mitchell's athletic choreography, a significant improvement on the original. Segueing from exotic, ornithological circus act to vigorously acrobatic cancan, the title-song centerpiece is rowdily enjoyable, given an added thrill by the nerve-wracking fear that one of "Les Cagelles" will either tumble into the pit or brain the conductor with an ill-aimed kick.

The most beguiling drag queens traditionally have some meat on their bones, and Mitchell has clearly cast his chorines based on dancing ability rather than how they look in full frock. In fact, some of the sinewy nightclub hoofers actually look prettier out of drag as Riviera townsfolk or waiters. But the hard-working boys' speed and agility in heels makes up for their homeliness en travesti.

The action hinges on the uproar that ensues when lovestruck Jean-Michel (Gavin Creel) announces to his gay, drag-club impresario father, Georges (Daniel Davis), his intention to marry a woman. That lass (Angela Gaylor) is the daughter of ultraconservative politician Edouard Dindon (Michael Mulheren), due to arrive with his wife (Linda Balgord) to meet the parents of their daughter's fiance, whom Jean-Michel has described as a retired French Foreign Service diplomat and his (female) wife. This makes Georges' long-term love and reigning stage star Albin, aka Zaza (Gary Beach), an unwelcome guest in his own home.

The culture clash of the encounter between the flamboyantly gay family and the rigidly traditionalist one seems underserved by the cursory book treatment from the moment the Dindons enter. But Fierstein ties up all the loose ends serviceably, redeeming the selfish Jean-Michel and providing an automatic attitude adjustment for Dindon and spouse during the course of Herman's warm-hearted anthem "The Best of Times."

In addition to its clunky book scenes, there's some awkward structuring in the show: Georges and Albin's cuddly soft-shoe, "With You on My Arm," comes too early, before we've seen much evidence of their affection and longevity as a couple. But Davis and Beach provide an appealing center; at the final curtain, they stroll into the sunset with a lingering kiss -- apparently deemed too daring in 1983 -- that looks far too innocuous now to upset even Anita Bryant, were she around.

Debonair and arched-of-eyebrow if perhaps slightly long in the tooth, Davis puts his plummy delivery and sitcom largesse to good use as Georges, along with his rich baritone. Stepping back into pumps after his Tony-winning spin in "The Producers," Beach seems physically uncertain at times but is vocally assured and becomes steadily more endearing. His Albin/Zaza is more convincing in hausfrau guise, posing as Jean-Michel's sweetly doting mere, than as the queen of Riviera nightlife. But Beach's rendition of act-one closer "I Am What I Am" -- the show's answer to "Rose's Turn" -- evinces the necessary resilience and dignity of a man who refutes the role of outsider.

Herman's tuneful score has its share of uninspired filler -- "Cocktail Counterpoint" is especially deadly -- but the key songs are well served by a cast with uniformly capable pipes. Creel's relaxed tenor makes nice work of "With Anne on My Arm" and "Look Over There," but Jean-Michel is presented like a gay man's damning vision of a straight man: bad outfits, bad dye job and -- yikes! -- a ponytail.

Scene-stealer of the supporting cast is Michael Benjamin Washington as Georges and Albin's statuesque flamer of a butler/maid Jacob, always the source of the show's funniest lines.

Scott Pask's sets boast some witty touches, notably in the monastic makeover of Georges and Albin's apartment before the Dindons' visit, or the keyhole cutouts in a boudoir-pink quilted wall in the opening nightclub number. But despite the softening kiss of Donald Holder's sugary lighting, too often the furnishings look cardboard and cheap, glaringly so in a repeatedly seen port backdrop.

Where the revival doesn't stint is in the fur, feathers and sequins of William Ivey Long's lavish costumes, incorporating some fun transformations, from Albin's butterfly emergence during "A Little More Mascara" to the blazing red plumage of an outsize crinoline that serves as a choreographic Trojan horse.


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