Houston’s Logan Keslar kicks up his (high) heels and makes a smashing Broadway debut in the dazzling Tony-honored restaging of the iconic ‘La Cage Aux Folles’
by Steven Foster
On paper, a stripped-down, cabaret-styled reboot of the gay French farce La Cage Aux Folles doesn’t squeal success, especially since its last Broadway bow stumbled like a newbie drag queen on Christian Louboutin heels. But La Cage is a big, fat, critical and crowd-pleasing hit. Kelsey Grammer offers more than just drawing power. Douglas Hodge gives a dazzling star turn as Albin. But the real show stealers are the dancing showgirls, the Cagelles.
With ferociously athletic choreography, wittily sexualized wardrobe, and identities that seem more co-star than generic chorus, the six young men who form the drag act of the titular nightclub practically pilfer the show from the more famous leads. Both press and public have fallen in rapturous love with these diva-men, and as a result, they’ve been everywhere. They killed at the Tonys, rendered Regis Philbin speechless, and were ranked #1 in the Out magazine Hot 100.
One of these whirling dervishes is Houston’s own Logan Keslar, who in the opening sequence’s nautical-themed number famously high-kicked the bejeezus out of one of the four giant audience-bouncing beach balls, reaching the Longacre Theatre’s crystal chandeliers and raining glass diamonds onto the gape-mouthed crowd. (“They don’t let us kick the balls anymore,” Keslar admits.) It was another one of the priceless moments in a must-see show that seems blessed with memorable happy accidents. The evening I saw La Cage, Grammer’s mincing wrist broke his watch clasp. The timepiece shot across the stage with a skid, causing Grammer and Hodge to have one of those giggly Carol Burnett Show moments where the stars break character, then effortlessly fold the break into the scene. Grammer even circled back to the gaffe in the warm yet rousing finale.
Keslar plays the trampiest member of the ensemble, the red-sequined slut Bitelle. Like all the Cagelles, he works the character with riveting, muscular physicality and lip-gloss-smacking relish. This slamdance of masculine and feminine is key to the show’s fresh take on an admittedly dated but still relevant work, and the genderbending continues far beyond the curtain call. The actors refer to themselves as “the girls,” and when Keslar talks about onstage antics with one of his fellow dancers, he describes them as “lesbian lovers.” The gender play makes La Cage simultaneously comic and erotic,
a conundrum that has given drag its goosy charm for centuries and is undoubtedly the reason for the straight world’s endearing fascination with drag. As holiday gifts go, you couldn’t give better than springing for one of the cabaret tables that are so close, you might just qualify for your Equity card. A present like this would guarantee your Santa sainthood.
After a quick tour backstage (where a decoupaged wall of nude male centerfolds leaves little doubt as to the Cagelles’ offstage sexuality), we ducked into the trattoria next door for Italian dishes, and to dish on the show.
Steven Foster: It’s so good to see you again. Loved the play, by the way.
Logan Keslar: You, too. And thank you. What I like about our show is that we all really fit together, but we’re all so different. [The producers have] given us a lot of wiggle room. We got to decide what kind of girls we wanted to be.
You’d expect all of you to just become wallpaper, but you’re not. Each one of you has such a distinct personality that really works.
In rehearsals they wanted us to be really crazy. On each of the calls—I got called back three times for this—we had to tap, do turns, and go through the steps one by one. And then they would tell us, “Now we’re going to put some music on, and you have to give us a runway presentation. Be whoever you want, but we need tons of energy and point of view, and we need to know who you are in a second.”
How long have you been in New York now?
I got my Equity card right after I graduated from HSPVA [High School for the Performing and Visual Arts] in 2005. But I’ve been doing equity shows since I was 10 years old. And I’d been around dancers from New York and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I was like, I don’t want to go to school. I’m done. I didn’t want to go to school four more years doing what I’d already been doing.
Did you feel like school had nothing more to teach you?
I probably could have learned tons more. But I was ready to work. And there were times that moving to New York right after high school was hard. In the staircase of life, I probably jumped like five steps. But I’ve worked a lot. I’ve toured, I’ve worked on the West End. People always think I’m older than I am, because even though I’ve only been here around four and a half years, I’ve probably “lived” more like eight.
I remember when we were working together on [the gothic anime series] Gilgamesh, you kept going back and forth to New York during production. That wasn’t for La Cage, was it?
I was in final callbacks for A Chorus Line. And they were filming that documentary which I’m in for probably three and a half seconds. If you’re looking really hard, you’ll find me.
But you’re all over the La Cage program.
Right. Watch out, I’m in every shot of the program. The girls still make fun of me about that.
So you call each other “girls”?
Oh, absolutely. Especially when we’re in full drag.
Are you all gay?
Except for Kelsey and Doug and maybe two people in the crew, everyone in that whole building is gay. [Both laugh]
So what is your schedule like? Because you are scarfing down your dinner. Are you always starving because the show is so demanding?
No. I was at first. The thing is, you have
to get to your fighting weight. Once you
get there, it’s not hard to maintain. We do
so much cardio in the show. And for that whole ballet section, the bird section, and then the can-can section, we’re wearing corsets. And they’re real corsets. So it’s like doing cardio, holding your breath, and drinking through a stir straw. And that one dance number is like 20 minutes from beginning to end and we’re changing costumes. It’s such a task, but luckily all of the girls come together and we all really get along. We help each other. We’re like sisters up there. But, yeah, it’s really hard. And I’m really hairy and I have to shave almost every day.
Yeah. Because we’re not wearing hose. I mean, in that birdcage number where I’m on top of that guy, spreading my legs out over his head, I’m only wearing a black dance belt, which is like a thong—I mean, it just covers your junk—and then lacy panties over it. We wear hose at the opening, but the rest of that…I mean, with those tables at the front of the stage, we’re there with our legs spread, you have to shave everything because [the audience] can see everything. You have to shave your business.
Guess that’s why those stage-side cabaret tables go for such a premium.
Right! And I have such a dark beard, I have to shave right before I put makeup on, and the makeup is this super heavy-duty makeup called Dermablend, which is basically for burn victims and people with vitiligo, okay? I have to use a spatula to put it on. And we wax our eyebrows and draw on new ones. Fake eyelashes, top and bottom. I wear five pairs of eyelashes.
Drag queens everywhere are saying they do the same. But they’re just lip-syncing and walking in a ball gown. This is a whole different ball game, so to speak. And this isn’t Maybelline.
Maybe she’s not born with it. Maybe she was born with “it” between her legs.
But you’ve always been very comfortable in drag.
Doing anything to that kind of extreme is good because it pushes your boundaries and helps you discover who you are. But then as soon as it’s over, I take the lashes off and I wash my face, and something about having that experience, of being, um…of being a lady, or a drag queen, whatever you wanna call it. Some people would call it a clown. Whatever you want to say it is.
What do you say it is?
It’s something that I’ve always been comfortable with. Even as a young child I wanted to run around in my sister’s ruby slippers, or put my mother’s dress on. That’s very much a part of who I am. But being able to have an outlet for that? Being able to channel all that energy? It’s fantastic. But being a man? I’m happy being a man.
What do you think the play says about the notion of gender identity? Or masculinity?
It always comes down to being about family and people who love each other. I think it says not to take everything so seriously. Because we’re up there and we’re just having a blast, and we’re being who we are, and we’re reveling in that, and you should too. [The audience] should get on board. And they do. Doug and Kelsey are just so charming, and they have such great charisma.
Tell me about the Tonys.
The way that it happens is that there are so many people there, they bring you to the stage like just one minute before you go on. And there are hundreds of people all around you and they’re all Broadway performers. There was one part when there were all the Cagelles and Kristen Chenoweth and Daniel Radcliffe and Katie Holmes and all these people, and it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re just scrunched in all together. But the Tonys were one of the scariest f–king experiences of my life. In the opening, we came out on top of this piano and [Tony host] Sean Hayes is playing it, and I was sitting dead-center on the piano in my red sequin dress…
Which you wear very well, by the way.
Oh, that dress! I love that dress. But I’m sitting there, and all I could keep thinking to myself was, Bitch, if you fall right now…
You’d be the drag queen who fell live on the Tonys.
You’re gonna be the bitch everyone laughs at forever. But what’s crazy is it doesn’t hit you until that moment. The whole rehearsal process? Never crossed my mind. I was up there like this. [Strikes a pose.] But then, bam, you’re just there. But it goes just as quickly as it came. The only thing I remember is getting up on that piano, which was on a three-foot platform that I also have to get off of—and I’m like, Just take a f–king breath. You’re gonna be great, you’re gonna be fine. And then, boom!, it starts and we start rolling out, and I’m looking at Sean Hayes and he’s looking at me, and he just f–king winks at me like “Let’s do this.” And there’s no reason for me to hold anything back because this is happening right now. And there’s no guarantee this is ever going to happen again. Truthfully. I hope it will happen again and I think it will, but you never know.
Live in the moment.
Yes. I just feel so incredibly lucky, I just have to pinch myself. I mean, I could have made my Broadway debut in Oklahoma! as Boy #15 on the Right, you know what I mean?
Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.