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Broadway brings the heat


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Lilias White is perpetually the ghost of Fummilayo Kuti, Fela's mother. I pitied the poor woman in her spectral role, repeatedly striding across the upstage parapet like a mummified mommy, allowed only fleetingly to be human. Jones has trapped White in a dream mode, without an opportunity to even dance her way out. She sings magnificently but never to an infectious pulse.

La Cage aux Folles (**3/4) — My taste in La Cage productions obviously differs from that of the New York press corps. They basically drummed the 2004 revival starring Gary Beach out of town, reviling the star's performance — and the production — for being gaudy and bland. Beach breathed fire two weeks after the pans came out, leaving me shaken after his stirring rendition of the anthemic "I Am What I Am," and I found nearly everything about Jerry Zaks direction powerful and pertinent, whether the show was thrusting dramatically or satirically.

Yet now the Gotham critics are raving about this comparatively toothless revival at the Longacre Theatre. Directing this downsized English import, director Terry Johnson takes us back to the familiar St. Tropez nightclub we remember from stage and film, only now it has gone to seed, an interesting premise with promise.

Unfortunately, Johnson seems to believe that Harvey Fierstein's book is pure farce and homophobia can now be laughed away as an extinct fossil. Dindon, the prospective in-law who threatens the domestic tranquility of the Georges-Albin household with his retro political plank, is played by Fred Applegate as a blustering buffoon. As for Les Cagelles, the crossdressing chorus line who welcome us to the risqué nightclub milieu, they have been largely deflowered of their former grace, and Arnold Schwarzenegger bodybuilding poses have been sprinkled into their choreography. Sacré bleu?! Not anymore.

On the other hand, Douglas Hodge is a wondrous Albin: delicate, flamboyant, and incurably effeminate. He and Robin De Jesus as the aspiring waiter/cook Jacob are the pair most worth watching if you surrender to the farcical tone of this production. The shame is that there is no chemistry established between Hodge and our current Georges, and Johnson has their son Jean-Michel shunning Albin like a leper until the denouement.

The reconciliation isn't convincing, let alone moving, as A. J. Shively takes the dubious prize for the most despicable Jean-Michel I've seen, while Chris Hoch, for all his mustached suavity, is surely the coolest, most clueless Georges in Broadway history. Kelsey Grammer, of Frazier fame, normally plays the role. He may add some of the warmth this Cage desperately needs.


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