A Trouper Embarks on a Voyage Over a Frothy Peach
By CHARLES ISHERWOOD
New York Times May 6, 2005
Look closely, and you may see an occasional flicker of dismay cross the placidly handsome features of Robert Goulet as he strides gallantly, if unsteadily, through the Broadway revival of "La Cage aux Folles" at the Marquis Theater.
This is not necessarily cause for alarm. The potential sources of unease are many, after all, ranging from peripheral matters like the color of the central set, which is enough to put you off peach ice cream forever, to more crippling flaws like the musical's retrograde depiction of a gay relationship as a coy parody of a marriage. Mr. Goulet would not be human if he did not transmit, ever so subtly, a qualm or two about the excesses of Jerry Zaks's revival of the Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein musical, which recently lost one of its leading men, Daniel Davis, following reports of backstage drama.
Aside from the occasional hint of strained ambivalence, Mr. Goulet undertakes the role of Georges, the owner of a transvestite nightclub on the Riviera who is facing a rising soufflé of domestic conflict, with a welcome air of crisp professionalism. At 71, and working with just one of his original hips, Mr. Goulet is, admittedly, not particularly agile. He merely sketches in the few dance steps he's required to perform in a brief duet with Gary Beach, who plays Georges's lover, Albin. And he rarely strays too far from a solid piece of furniture. But his infirmity is not a serious drawback. In fact it comes to invest his performance with a pleasing symbolism: he stands as a still beacon of determined restraint amid the frantic vulgarity that surrounds him.
Most of us know, at least theoretically, who Robert Goulet is, but how many know what he's been up to since he made his Broadway debut in 1960, playing Lancelot in the original production of "Camelot"? His subsequent Broadway appearances have been infrequent. He won a Tony for "The Happy Time" in 1968. He graduated to the role of King Arthur in a touring revival of "Camelot" that played briefly on Broadway in 1993. His last appearance was in "Moon Over Buffalo" 10 years ago.
And yet his subdued, graceful performance here speaks soothingly of a more confident era on Broadway, when musicals were not so desperate to flaunt their wares and performers could unthinkingly place their trust in their material and get on with the show. Mr. Goulet does just that in "La Cage," even if trust in this particular material is more romantic than rational.The firm baritone can still boom out a resonant note when a bit of punctuation is needed, but Mr. Goulet largely sings with the same supple, offhand sense of style that he brings to the performance as a whole. His affinity for a sentimental ballad, honed over years, provides the production's finest moment.
When Mr. Goulet performs "Song on the Sand," in which Georges recalls the experience of first love through a fog of memory that blurs the details but not the intensity of the feeling, we escape briefly from the show's antic artificiality into the realm of real experience. For Mr. Goulet's fans, the moment will surely evoke responses echoing the sentiments in the song, stirring up memories of past pleasures to take home and cherish anew.
"La Cage aux Folles" is at the Marquis Theater, 1535 Broadway, between 45th and 46th Streets, (212) 307-4100.