The sheer number of new musicals and revivals opening this spring in New York is fairly daunting. Don't get me wrong: more shows is certainly better than fewer. But my full-time schedule of classes at the Boston Conservatory creates a logistical challenge to me to get down to the city, preferably for one of the appointed press dates for the shows in question.
So far things are working out: I'm headed down this weekend to see The Book of Mormon, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Where's Charley?, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Watch for my reviews in the weeks to come.
Before the spring crop of shows began to burgeon, I wanted to get down to see La Cage aux Folles with its new stars Harvey Fierstein and Jeffrey Tambor. Well, shortly after I arranged for my ticket it was announced that Tambor would be leaving the show after only a week of performances. The official line was that Tambor was experiencing complications from a recent hip operation. The truth, from what I hear, was a lot closer to what Michael Riedel reported in the New York Post: Tambor couldn't handle the role, lost his confidence, and succumbed to a major case of stage fright.
So, by the time I made it back to the Longacre Theatre, Tambor had withdrawn from the production, leaving his more than capable understudy, Chris Hoch, to pick up the slack. At the time, it hadn't been announced that Christopher Sieber would be Tambor's eventual replacement. Otherwise, I might have rearranged my plans: I love me some Chris Sieber. Maybe I'll have to take the show in a third time.
I certainly wouldn't mind. To be perfectly honest, the show felt more swiftly paced and emotionally engaging under the ministrations of Kelsey Grammer and Douglas Hodge. Perhaps this was because I was attending a sparsely populated Wednesday matinee the second time around. But once the production got moving, it became clear that the real star of the show remained director Terry Johnson's marvelously intimate and heartfelt staging.
The production is well worth a second look, if only for Harvey Fierstein, who is quite simply a comic wonder. And his "I Am What I Am" was stunning, full of both raw power and emotional restraint. Anyone who thinks Harvey Fierstein can't sing is in for a real surprise. (Although those of us who are fans of the sorely underrated A Catered Affair can attest to his perhaps surprisingly melodic singing prowess.) True his vocal timbre is closer to that of an overheated mallard that your typical Broadway leading man, but his intonation is impeccable, and his emotional expression incomparable.
Hearing Harvey's voice again in person reminded me of when I saw La Cage in its Boston tryout at the Colonial Theater some 27 years ago. I was but a wee sprite, but I nonetheless recognized a familiar foghorn of a voice emanating from behind me, and was delighted when I turned to see Harvey seated over my right shoulder. Not only that, but Jerry Herman was seated two seats away from me in my own row. It made for a rather magical evening, and I'm thrilled that Mr. Fierstein has afforded me the opportunity of bringing that experience full circle.