There was a little voice in my mind telling me, “You must go back. You must. You’ve got to see this.” The occasion? Robert Goulet was stepping into the leading role of Georges in La Cage Aux Folles, replacing a fired Daniel Davis in a rather public melee over backstage behavior and nonsense, of which I’m not entirely sure of the truth.
Anyway, the first time I saw the revival happened to be the first Tuesday back after the firing and the understudy, John Hillner, went on and was quite excellent. However, prior to the start of the performance, none other than Mr. Goulet himself exited into the theatre via the side door and proceeded to the rear of the house. And let it be known I said “Oh my God, it’s Robert Goulet!” loud enough to be heard by the actor. I settled in for a phenomenal performance of the show, one that I thought was better than its detractors said, with some of the most joyous choreography to ever stop a show. Just an enjoyable time – and the first time I exited a theatre among people humming the songs. I’ve heard of that notion, but I’d never actually witnessed it before, it was quite a pleasant novelty.
Anyway, I did get back to La Cage for its final performance in June ’05, since it didn’t have the run nor press it deserved it closed within three weeks of winning the Best Revival Tony. All seats were going for the 1983 prices in an effort to fill the theatre for the final weeks of the run, and I jumped at the opportunity mostly because I wanted to say that I saw Robert Goulet live on Broadway. My reasoning being “Who knows if he’ll ever tread these boards again?”
And sadly enough, I was right. The world lost one of the most virile baritones to grace the Broadway stage in the history of recorded musical theatre. His performance as Lancelot in the original Camelot opposite Richard Burton and Julie Andrews is one for the ages, and his original cast performance of “If Ever I Would Leave You” remains and will likely always remain, the most definitive rendition of that soaring ballad.
From his auspicious debut, it took till 1968 when he starred in the Kander and Ebb adaptation of The Happy Time for him to make a return to Broadway, this time winning a Tony award for his performance as Jacques Bonnard opposite David Wayne and a young Michael Rupert.
When I learned that Mr. Goulet had died, this was the album I played. Though I have Camelot, and also the LP’s of his TV musicals Brigadoon, Carousel and Kiss Me Kate, I’ve always felt that this album showed him at the peak of his musical career, before he became a pop culture joke, though a good sport and one he loved to perpetuate. (His cameo on The Simpsons singing ‘Jingle Bells, Batman smells” and his recent commercials come to mind). His voice rings out clarion on such gorgeous melodies, possibly the most beautiful Kander ever composed, as the title song and especially “Walking Among My Yesterdays” and “I Don’t Remember You.”
Mr. Goulet may not have been what one would consider ideal casting for a middle-aged homosexual in St. Tropez (again, Hepburn as Chanel?), but his professionalism and his ease with comic lines were able to help him get through the show without me ever once question his casting. And when he sang – oh that voice could still fill a theatre and I bet without a microphone at that (take that, overamplification). He performed both “Song on the Sand” and “Look Over There” with such voice and charisma, one wishes they had recorded a cast album when he joined the show.
I am so glad I trusted my instincts and decided to go, since I got to see one of the last of the Golden Age legends perform in a book musical on Broadway. Trust me kids, if the chance ever comes up to see a legend in action, don’t take it for granted. Just go, regardless of the cost, it’ll be something you can proudly tell people in later years. There’s nothing quite like being in the presence of a star.