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Though life may be a cabaret, old chum, there are very few places in the modern era to enjoy a true, traditional cabaret performance, unless you happen to live near the 54 Below nightclub in New York City. For those not so fortunate, or for those who live closer to Hollywood than Broadway, “La Cage” is bringing old-school style (with modern twists) to Los Angeles – with a new, fun, hilarious and sexy show that leaves audiences humming.
The show I saw at the Hollywood Roosevelt, one crisp Friday evening, included a special performance from Broadway actress Ruby Lewis, who belted out the torch song “The Man That Got Away” during a segment paying tribute to Judy Garland. A Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Alisha Soper), meanwhile, brought the legendary actress’ signature style to a show-stopping “Maybe This Time.”
That song, from “Cabaret” and made famous many years after Monroe’s death, is a good example of how the show mixes eras and genres. At one point the 1980s “Physical,” originally performed by Olivia Newton John, is infused with Bob Fosse-inspired choreography and rhythm, complete with bowl hats and black pantyhose.
The French musical “La Cage aux Folles,” its ensuing film adaptation and the 1980s L.A. nightclub it inspired serve as the inspiration for the show.
Moving the proceedings along is Tommi Rose, a veteran drag queen who boasts quick wit and puns galore. He also performed at the original La Cage club, which used to be situated on La Cienega Boulevard and attracted guests ranging from Lucille Ball to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Rose’s connection to the audience is matched only by his ability to dawn a new, elaborate, sparkly outfit with every appearance. I lost count of how many changes he had, but I definitely would’ve needed my toes to add them up.
The Cinegrill Theatre on the basement-floor level of the Roosevelt is the perfect venue for a revue that feels simultaneously out of time and of its time.
A kind of Andrews Sisters trio gives a big band reading of Adele’s “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).” The boisterous, cheeky band leader encourages the girls to give the song an “in the round” performance (tough to explain, but extremely impressive), and then another sing-through in Spanish.
Many of the performers stand out, among them Mel Mehrabian, who’s winning smile and soulful voice lend a charmingly bombastic quality to several numbers. Amber Liekhus’ voice has similar gravitas, and her presence amplifies the stage every time she appears. Donovan Mendelovitz ably takes on “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” from “Gypsy” with a contemporary swing, while Tyler Matthew Burk tips his hat to Garland with “Get Happy.” Each, along with the rest of the cast are stars in their own rights.
The real appeal for this reviewer was the glamour of it all. As an old Hollywood aficionado, who has seen movies like “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Singin’ in the Rain” more times than I can count, I found myself transported to the mystique of Tinsel Town’s yesteryear. The meld with modern songs and styles worked seamlessly for me, allowing the charm and innocence of a bygone era to shade the raw reality of today. It’s the 21st century with a diffuser lens and Nelson Riddle conducting.
The set list shifts periodically, so return audience members will notice subtle changes with each performance. Each show also has its own special guest. In addition to Lewis, Cheyenne Jackson, E.G. Daily and Ada Vox have appeared on the Cinegrill stage thus far, and Vox will return for the Nov. 3 performances, which will be held at 7 and 10 p.m. Shows continue twice every Friday night through January, and songs are shifted periodically.
For information, visit welcometolacage.com. The Hollywood Roosevelt is located at 7000 Hollywood Blvd.