Elegant, sophisticated cabaret at Georges' La Cage aux Folles with John Partridge as Zaza and the wonderful chorus line. Pictures: Pamela Raith
La Cage aux Folles
John Partridge is going to have to go some in the rest of his career to top his performance as Albin. He is simply magnificent.
He gives us an Albin who is more camp than a boy scout jamboree, can be petulant, confident on stage, vulnerable off it, gloriously funny yet generates enough pathos to elicit real feeling for his complex character, an aging, gay, transvestite drag artiste.
On stage a full of life character, off it, without wig and in the depths of despair, he looks as desolate as any character could be, a lost soul in faded make-up.
And he gets fabulous support from Adrian Zmed as his partner Georges, owner of La Cage aux Folles, the notorious nightclub in St Tropez - notorious in a nice way of course,
Zmed is perhaps best known to those of a certain age – and their parents who sat through it with them - as Officer Romano in T.J.Hooker in the days before William Shatner swapped motorbikes for starships.
He gives us a Georges who is urbane, adept at dealing with a whole cast of drag artistes, the moods of Albin, and who has the talents of a carnival barker as he introduces acts at his club, including his star attraction, Zaza, Albin’s drag alter-ego.
Their cosy, if a little unconventional life, has the help, or more likely hindrance, of Jacob, Albin’s OTT maid in a deliciously camp portrayal by Samson Ajewole.
That is until Jean-Michele, Georges’ son from a one night dalliance with a showgirl at the Lido 24 years ago - merely to see what it was that the heterosexuals made such a fuss about – arrives home announcing he is to be married to Anne, a sweet and innocent performance from Alexandra Robinson.
Dougie Carter’s gives us a son who appears to be not the nicest, or at least the most sensitive of offspring but he is young, in love and doesn’t want to upset Anne’s visiting parents . . . and there is the rub, and, to be fair, he does show how he really feels in the cheerful ending.
Edouard Dindon, Anne’s father is Deputy General of the Tradition, Family, and Morality Party and as ultraconservative as you can get - a man who has vowed to clean up the Riviera and its seedy, transvestite clubs – which adds a little weight to Jean-Michele’s concerns.
Adrian Zmed as Georges and John Partridge as Albin
Paul F Monaghan is a lovely Edouard, a little like David Haig doing an impression of John Cleese in his bubble of right wing, puritanical, self-importance.
In the original French play from 1973 this set the scene for a hectic farce – the French being much more laid back about homosexuality than either the UK or the USA, having been the first Western country to decriminalise it - back in 1791.
The 1983 musical with Jerry Herman’s music and lyrics and Harvey Fierstein’s words shunned the farce element, and went instead for camp, embracing good, old fashioned musical comedy to create a gay-themed show for mainstream audiences.
Now Bill Kenwright’s lavish production has added another layer - musical hall, even panto, as Partridge interacts with the audience, picking out individuals for special attention, talking to the band, making asides which Fierstein never envisaged. It helps endear him to the audience making them feel his hurt at rejection all the more.
Another nice touch is Partridge’s accent. The musical is set in the south of France with everyone as French as baguettes, except Albin appears to have learned his English from watching Coronation Street – a hint of Partridge’s Radcliffe roots perhaps.
It gives his character an added dimension, helps to create a person rather than just a part played on stage, so much so that when Albin sings the show’s genuine showstopper, I am what I am, you feel every word with him.
The song has become a sort of modern My Way, an anthem covered by a host of artists but for anyone who has seen La Cage aux Folles it will always be Albin’s song and Partridge did it justice with a powerful and emotional performance.
There is good support from Marti Webb as the restaurant owner Jacqueline who can really belt out a song and shows there is more than one way to skin a right-wing politician.
Su Douglas as Mde Dindon finally joins the revolution standing up to her husband and Douglas and Monaghan also double up as the Renaud’s, the café owners where Georges and Albin make up after their fight and where they try to teach Albin to at least appear within nodding distance of being heterosexual in front of Anne’s parents – good luck with that.
And then there are the showgirls/boys, herded by stage manager Francis, played with ever increasing stress by Jon de Ville. It’s a chorus line that would pass as girls any day of the week, all in high heels and with high kicks that should bring tears to the eyes. Magnifique, gents, with an appreciative nod to choreographer Bill Deamer – and make up and wigs by Richard Mawbey.
The musical has some quality songs, all beautifully sung, which all help set the scene and move the story along such as the nostalgic Song on the sand or the bitter Look over there from Georges or The Best of Times which becomes an ensemble piece all carried along by a excellent seven piece band under musical director Mark Crossland.
Gary McCann’s design is a masterclass in how to create five sets from one, and even giving the club set a whole range of variations on its own, all flying in seamlessly with no break in the action, and what scenery. The club looks opulent in a sort of French colonial decadence sort of style, all mirrors and reds and gold peacocks.
There is a Busby Berkeley staircase which could be straight from 1930’s Hollywood, and lights everywhere. The bare brick wall is backstage, then there is the apartment with its themed design and decor including a novel light switch which doesn’t appear to have made it yet on to Location, Location, Location or any of the other property programmes clogging up daytime TV.
The promenade has shop fronts with real flowers and wine bottles in the windows, all appearing at the drop of a beret – after all we are in France. And then there are the costumes . . . lavish hardly starts to describes them. The whole show looks and feels a big budget spectacular. No expense spared in a show that really means business and delivers on every level.
A mention too for an intelligent lighting design from Ben Cracknell which changes mood and emphasis in an instant with everything under the steady helm of director Martin Connor.
This is the first ever UK tour of La Cage aux Folles and it is a real treat, an old fashioned musical comedy with West End production values, it might be outrageous but at heart it is a story about dignity and acceptance and in its own small way has probably done more for tolerance over the years than any number of serious plays. Brilliant entertainment full of fun and feeling. For once the standing ovation was richly deserved. It runs to 20-05-17.
La Cage Aux Folles returns to the West Midlands from 27 June to 1 July at Wolverhampton Grand